Mayor David Condon announced today that his administration will reissue the call for bids from private ambulance companies looking to operate in the city of Spokane, and that the new request will not include the requirement that bidders have experience serving American cities of 150,000 or more.
The ambulance contract process has been controversial since last month, when the fire department reported that only one company — the current provider, American Medical Response (AMR) — had responded to a request for bids, and some on the city council raised concerns about a lack of competition. Namely, representatives from the ambulance company Falck told city leaders they couldn't bid because, despite being a major provider, they lacked experience providing advanced service to an American city of 150,000 people.
After Falck expressed its concerns, Council President Ben Stuckart wrote the mayor asking him to reissue the request for bids. Because the council has the ultimate authority to approve or reject the ambulance contract, Stuckart told the Inlander that if it was not rebid, the council would likely reject a contract with AMR until it was.
Condon acknowledged today the council's concerns played a role in his decision: "Have we encouraged other international companies in the city's business practices? Not typically. Actually, I've never seen it, but ... I worked with city council members and obviously they ultimately need to pass this. My job in the administration is to make sure we have safe and reliable services to our citizens."
For its part, AMR says Falck had the chance to raise its concerns before bids were due and didn't. Now, AMR's bid is public record and the company worries it could be undercut by new bidders with an unfair advantage. (It's taken out an ad in the Spokesman and put up this website to make its argument to the public.)
Fire department leaders have said their concern with contracting with a company that does most of its work outside the United States is that it wouldn't be sufficiently prepared to deal with the complexities of the Affordable Care Act and other American medical regulations. Like in the previous process, the department will review each bid received in response to the new request and it is "critical we ask those questions," Condon said.
Condon said he expects the new process will be finished and a company recommended to the council in November. Since AMR's current contract expires next month, the company may be given an extension to bridge the gap to a new contract.