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Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2005

Monroe County now must look for permanent ambulance service

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - With a new, temporary ambulance service in place, Monroe County's Emergency Medical Authority will turn its attention to securing a full-time provider.

Financial woes sunk Hart Medical EMS, which closed its county operation on Friday.

Toledo-based ProMedica Continuing Care Services Corp. and American Medical Response of Greenwood Village, Colo. took over service Monday, with ProMedica covering the county south of the River Raisin while AMR will cover the north.

The companies have signed a 90-day contract.

The board's operations committee will begin analyzing the service agreement set in place for Hart to determine what should be changed to make it easier for the next company to succeed, said board member Vickie Koczman.

Hart ran six ambulances with each carrying two paramedics. Additionally, Hart operated a dispatch center in the county, something AMR - the county's previous service provider- did not do. Some have suggested that the county could do fine with fewer ambulances and paramedics and that requiring the ambulance company to have a Monroe-based dispatch center is an unnecessary expense.

Said Ms. Koczman: "I think we'll look at the ambulance [situation], but the data suggests that we need the six units."

She said the dispatch center issue will closely be examined and discussed. Hart was the only company in the previous bidding process - in 2003 - that volunteered to open a Monroe-based command post.

"We [might] have to let it go," she said.

Added board Chairmen Mike Demski: "We're going to have an open mind and take a look at it. With all the high tech equipment out there new it may not totally be necessary to [have it here]."

The issue of paramedics lies with the county's medical control board, which has staunchly supported the two-paramedic-per-ambulance system.

Hart's owner, Richard Levine, said he was hurt by his inability to collect payment from uninsured customers, by tardy payment from insurance companies, and a previous owner who negotiated an agreement he could not live up to. Mr. Levine, a retired firefighter from Farmington Hills, Mich., had been the company's largest investor but assumed control of the company after owner Adam Gottlieb left six months into the contract.

Mr. Levine said he never recovered from the chaotic transition period, which put him in a quick financial hole. By last week, Mr. Levine said he had lost between $400,000 and $500,000 on the venture. Hart, he said, had compiled debt that surpassed $1.7 million.

Despite its problems, Hart continued to provide excellent service, ambulance authority board members said. Their demise has caused ambulance authority members to question whether the contract agreement set up Hart to fail or whether the problem was with Mr. Levine.

As a result, the group will move cautiously before choosing its next ambulance service.

"First thing we're going to do is step back and take a look where we're at. Was there something there that we helped cause? We need to go through the whole [agreement] document thoroughly. And we need to get a fresh perspective from some of our new [authority] members. We need to take time to do it right," he said.

Ms. Koczman said her committee will sponsor several workshops in the coming weeks during which all the key issues will be addressed.

Eventually, her committee will present a final document for board approval, which will become the basis for a bid request for a full-time service provider.

ProMedica and AMR's temporary contract expires July 1. The companies have agreed to continue at 30-day intervals until a full-time provider is chosen.

Ms. Koczman hopes to have a new company in place by Aug. 1

Meanwhile, ProMedica and AMR have hired a number of Hart's more than 20 employees, a decision the ambulance authority encouraged.

Contact George Tanber

at gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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