Council extends ambulance transport service

Council extends ambulance transport service

Dave Boitano
Alameda Fire Department

Photo from the City of Alameda website.

A city ambulance service that provides non-critical transport of patients has passed its initial trial and is now part of the Alameda Fire Department, the City Council decided Tuesday night.

But in approving an extension of the Basic Life Support program unanimously Tuesday, council members made clear that they wanted the service to be financially viable and asked that department officials return in one year to report on the system’s progress.

Advertised as “Your Local Provider,” the service operates two ambulances staffed by emergency medical technicians who take aged or chronically ill patients to and from Alameda Hospital to nursing homes, chemotherapy appointments and other services requiring ambulance transportation. The fire department subcontracts with other private ambulance companies to drive patients at night or on weekends.

More serious critical care transports are handled by three other ambulances staffed by Alameda Fire firefighter/paramedics.

Alameda Fire Chief Mike D'Orazi said the program has provided opportunities for EMTs who want to become firefighters and police officers, including two employees who were hired by his department.

D’Orazi said the first two years of the program amounted to a learning curve for fire department officials as they learned the ropes of billing patient insurance, contracting with Alameda Hospital and retaining personnel.

While the service got off to a slow start in 2012, it picked up after the department amended its contract with the hospital in June 2013 and increased rapidly after a second ambulance was added in October.

Like all health care service providers, Alameda Fire receives reimbursement amounting to about 45 percent of the cost of each transport from Medicare and other insurers. Reimbursement can take up to a year for non-critical cases, forcing the agency to budget for income it has not yet received.

In the 2013-14 fiscal year, it cost Alameda Fire $291,567 to operate the service but revenue was $201,911, leaving a $89,656 deficit. But officials estimate the program expects to get $145,192 in outstanding insurance payments, bringing the net income to $55,536.

Mayor Marie Gilmore and Councilwoman Lena Tam wondered if the program can remain in the black.

“At the end of the day is this a net positive?” Gilmore asked.

D'Orazi replied that while the first year of the program was a financial “wash” he expects the second year to be better.

“It’s a good program and it will be a positive as long as we maintain oversight,” he said.

Alameda Hospital's interim chief administrative officer, Deborah E. Stebbins, said the fire department’s system of referring calls out to other subcontractors when its own ambulances are not available has saved staff time that would be spent contacting multiple providers to arrange a transport.

The simplified billing system the fire department uses has also saved the hospital $300,000, she added.

The council approved the program as a two-year pilot in 2012, after the fire department pitched it as a way to make money due to what they said was a growing need for the service. Department officials estimated the program could make $72,879 in its first year and $218,853 in year two. Council members voted to expand the program from one ambulance to two, in 2013.

Related: Fire department, hospital expand transport partnership


golfwriter's picture
Submitted by golfwriter on Wed, Jun 18, 2014

Why was the city council meeting not televised? All I got was a blank screen.

Submitted by Tom (not verified) on Wed, Jun 18, 2014

One more attempt of the Fire Service to be in a profit making business which will cost the City dearly in the next decade! More evidence to show that the Fire Union controls the council.

Council needs lower FireDepartment wages and benefits to sustainable and reasonable levels. Hiring more staff certainly compounds the problem.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Thu, Jun 19, 2014

Hey Ron: Was it your cable maybe? I was able to watch when I tuned in.