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Published: Thursday, 3/10/2005

Monroe County makes plans for fallback ambulance service

MONROE - The Monroe County Emergency Medical Authority last night approved a plan that will provide the county with immediate ambulance service should the county's current provider go out of business.

The emergency plan, approved 6-1, calls for two companies to cover the county - one in the north, the other in the south - for 90 days.

The action was taken because of financial difficulties facing Hart Medical EMS, a privately owned company that signed a three-year contract with the county in November, 2003. Hart employees have complained about their paychecks bouncing, the loss of health-care coverage, and increased hours from a loss of employees who have not been replaced.

Owner Richard Levine has conceded he is struggling to keep the company afloat. Despite the financial problems facing Hart, medical authority board members say the company has maintained excellent service. Even employees who are upset with the company over their paycheck problems and the loss of medical benefits say they are hoping Mr. Levine succeeds.

But Vickie Koczman, a member of the board's operations committee, said Monday the board could not afford to sit back and not act.

"We're to the point where we're putting together an emergency plan in case Hart decides they are not going to run their service in the county anymore," she said.

At last night's meeting, the operations committee presented its proposal to the nine-member board, which was missing two members. Two new members, appointed to the board Tuesday by the county commissioners, were present: Michael Helmstadtler and David Nadeau.

In addition to the request for two ambulance companies to cover the county on a temporary basis, the plan calls for each of the companies to provide three ambulances in their area.

The board said it will send its proposal to Community EMS of Southfield, Mich.; Huron Valley Ambulance of Ann Arbor; MedCorp, ProMedica, and LifeStar Ambulance, all of Toledo, and American Medical Response of Greenwood Village, Colo., the county's former ambulance service provider.

The board said any interested companies have to respond by Monday. Any agreement will last 90 days. If more than one company for each region meets the board's qualifications, the board said it will use a lottery system to determine the winner.

Should Hart fail, the board said it would seek a single company to serve the county while the temporary agreement is in effect. "Our goal would be to put this on the fast track and get a permanent provider," said board member Troy Goodnough. "[The temporary agreement] would give us time to evaluate somebody."

Dale Berry, president and chief operating officer of Huron Valley Ambulance, told the board some of the requirements in the service contract Hart signed that would be binding to any temporary provider were not practical.

In particular, he said the requirement for an eight-minute response time for ambulance service in rural areas was not possible on most occasions. The board agreed and changed the response time to 10 to 12 minutes.

Board member Jan Jay, who voted against the plan, said he believed the contract between Hart and the medical authority was voided when the original owner, Adam Gottlieb, left the company, leaving its chief investor, Mr. Levine, in charge.

The county's attorney, Philip Goldsmith, told Mr. Jay despite the change in leadership, the contract is still binding.

But Mr. Jay said he plans to file for a legal challenge to the contract today.

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