Oroville and county looking for long-term private sector ambulance services contract

“Lifeline was the most qualified because of their track record as a company,” Chris Branch, Oroville Director or Community Development

OROVILLE – Rather than going back to an all volunteer ambulance crew, it looks like Okanogan County and the City of Oroville will be choosing a long term service provider.

Currently Lifeline Ambulance Inc., a private emergency services provider, has been under contract to the city and rural EMS district after the volunteer crew resigned en masse over differences with the city. The county commissioners head up the rural portion of the EMS and city council the part of the district that lies within the city limits. Both groups decided they were through negotiating with the volunteers and hired Lifeline on a emergency basis. Now they have decided to continue with a private agency going forward.

Chris Branch, Director of Community Development
Chris Branch

A Request for Qualifications (RFQ)has been sought by the county and city and was published in August and were specifically sent to Lifeline Ambulance Inc. and North Star Ambulance Service. North Star Ambulance Service was formed shortly before the volunteer crew resigned and is made up primarily with former EMTs from that crew. In a white paper titled “Oroville Ambulance Service Update,” North Star is described as an “entity of uncertain status.”

Chris Branch, Oroville’s director of community development, said the city and county are using a process of selecting who they think is most qualified and then will negotiate the types of services and costs after that selection has been made.

“Decisions like level of service and costs will be negotiated after the city and county make that selection,” Branch said, adding, “The process is similar to when the city hires an engineering firm.”

The deadline for submittals of RFQ was Sept. 3 and the city and county plan to begin discussions regarding the review and selection of submittals and subsequent contract negotiations this month.

“They ambulance committee (Councilmen Tony Keopke and Jon Neal), the mayor an I decided that Lifeline was the most qualified because of their track record as a company,” said Branch.

Branch doesn’t know which private sector company the county commissioners will choose. However, he says the city feels they should remain in charge of administration of the ambulance service.

“We’ve asserted to the county commissioners to let us remain in charge because the city has been in the business a long time and the ambulance hall is just across the street,” he said.

Much concern has been voiced about the current emergency contract because there are only two Lifeline EMTs assigned to Oroville. While the volunteer crew had the ability to man both of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) District’s ambulances, currently Lifeline can only man one and relies on Tonasket to provide additional coverage if multiple emergencies occurred at once requiring a second ambulance to roll out on a call. Other concerns have been voiced about the cost to the taxpayers for a private service over the volunteer service.

Oroville EMS had been operated by volunteers for 28 years with the city providing the ambulance service using a “paid volunteer arrangement.” According to the White Paper Oroville officials began investigating the option of contracting with the private sector for ambulance/emergency medical services several months ago. This was prompted, according to the city, because the ambulance coordinator, Debra Donohue resigned, and “because of a shrinking volunteer force, part of which included volunteer employees that have been dissatisfied with the existing program.” The paper goes on to say, “The city’s inquiry was disrupted by complaints to the Okanogan County Board of Commissioners who discovered in implementing their agreement with the city that they do not have legal authority to relinquish their contracting authority to their representatives (Oroville Rural EMS Commissioners), acknowledging that by law they (the county commissioners) must execute agreement updates directly with the city. While this discovery hampered and delayed the efforts of the city in studying the private sector alternative, it motivated the governing parties to review the current arrangement resulting in a cooperative effort to seek alternatives that may better serve their constituents.”

They list several reasons for making the change from a volunteer service to a private sector service.

Some of the primary reasons include:

  • Responsible governance. It is incumbent upon elected officials to periodically review and evaluate public programs for efficiency and value.
  • Safety. The governing bodies have agreed that the citizens of the Oroville area deserve the best ambulance service possible.
  • Predictability. Contracting with the private sector provides a binding contractual arrangement that legally obligates the service provider to satisfy various standards then provisions including levels of service. The private sector service provider is obligated to ensure that adequate staffing, training and equipment is in place to perform the service.
  • Risk Management. As with any activity that includes emergency services there are liability risks that must be considered in cost of service.