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Published: Thursday, 11/10/2005

EMS companies pursue Monroe County pact

MONROE - A trio of ambulance firms gave sales pitches last night to the Monroe County Emergency Medical Authority, seeking to secure the county's unstable and financially troubled business.

Representatives from American Medical Response, of Greenwood Village, Colo.; MedCorp Inc., of Toledo, and Monroe County Ambulance made presentations lasting about an hour to eight members of the authority.

The ninth member, Patricia Kosanovich, withdrew from the process, because she is an executive at Mercy Memorial Hospital, a Monroe County Ambulance partner.

Gregory Lawton, an AMR vice president, reminded the authority that his company directed the county's service for about 20 years, and that AMR is the country's largest ambulance service provider, with a number of active contracts in Michigan.

"We have critical mass in this market, [so] we can provide you with more than you need," he said.

AMR's bid differed from the others in that the company, which agreed to provide six fully equipped ambulances and around the clock service, has asked the board for an annual $950,000 subsidy to offset what Mr. Lawton said was a service proposal that could not be profitable.

Regarding the subsidy and the authority's lack of funds, authority member Troy Goodnough questioned the wisdom of AMR's proposal.

"I find it hard to believe you didn't know we didn't have money," he told Mr. Lawton.

Mr. Lawton said the nature of the business is such that very few EMS systems around the country can operate in the black without subsidies of some kind.

The county's ambulance service has been in disarray for more than a year, after Hart Medical EMS, citing financial problems, quit its contract in April.

AMR and ProMedica Medical Transportation Network of Toledo were given temporary contracts to handle the county's ambulance service while the bid proposal, viewed by many as flawed, was revamped. AMR gave up its temporary contract this summer and was replaced by Huron Valley Ambulance, of Ann Arbor.

Mr. Lawton told the authority last night AMR dropped out because it was difficult for the company to operate in a fragmented operation and without a subsidy.

"It got to the point where we could not afford to do it anymore," he said.

MedCorp officials said they operate in 25 Ohio communities and that their Toledo base offers Monroe County a convenience benefit no one else can match.

Tony Anteau, operations vice president, said MedCorp could guarantee five full-time ambulances only if Mercy Memorial Hospital agrees to a working relationship with the company. Otherwise, MedCorp will offer three ambulances based in the county, but will have 16 part-time vehicles based in Toledo available for emergency and other runs in Monroe County.

A number of authority members questioned whether MedCorp could adequately cover the county with a three-ambulance and the back-up arrangement, but Richard Bage, the company's president and chief executive officer, said the plan would work fine under MedCorp.

"When you know how to do this and you've done it as long as we have, [you can handle it]," he said.

Monroe County Ambulance is a partnership among Mercy Memorial Hospital System of Monroe; ProMedica Transportation and Mercy Health Partners' LifeStar Ambulance, both of Toledo, and HVA.

Dale Berry, HVA's chief executive officer who will direct Monroe Ambulance, told the authority Monroe County has some unique challenges that have made it difficult for ambulance companies to survive in the county. For instance, HVA's temporary service in the northern part of the county has operated at a loss of $30,000 a month, he said.

The new company, a nonprofit entity that would provide a seven-unit system in the county, would succeed without a subsidy because four companies would join together, making it a more viable concern, he said.

"The only way for this to work is a multicompany group," Mr. Berry said. "We want to give you the services you need, but the budget is tight."

The authority plans to award the four-year contract Nov. 30.



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