Competing with the county’s nine fire districts, private nonprofit American Legion Ambulance (ALA) has won the bid to provide ambulance services to the north and south zones of Calaveras County.
The award comes after nearly a year of uncertainty hanging over who the next provider would be.
The Calaveras County Fire Joint Powers Authority (JPA) threw its hat in the ring after a Mountain-Valley Emergency Medical Services (Mountain-Valley) request for proposal (RFP) in December of 2019 yielded zero bidders.
Mountain-Valley is the regulatory agency for ambulance services for five counties, including Calaveras.
Having secured a new five-year contract starting June 1, 2021, ALA will remain the provider for the north zone (West Point, Valley Springs, Mokelumne Hill, Jenny Lind and San Andreas) and the south zone (Murphys, Copperopolis, Altaville, Milton and the city of Angels Camp). Ebbetts Pass Fire District will continue to serve residents of the upper Highway 4 corridor with ambulance services.
ALA told the Enterprise that it did not submit a bid in 2019 due to new costs that would be required to meet shorter response times, but worked with the county to extend its existing contract.
As Mountain-Valley was adjusting the RFP to increase response times, the Fire JPA started coming up with a plan to bid on a new five-year contract.
Fire chiefs asked the county board of supervisors in July for a loan of $2.6 million in seed funding, with the promise that the districts would collectively be able to provide a service that increases the number of paramedic units and effectively lower response times across the county. Chiefs said they’d be able to fiscally outperform the private provider, ALA, since fire districts are eligible for higher reimbursement rates via Medicare and Medicaid. The loan, which would have been issued had the Fire JPA won the bid, was approved by a split board.
In a mid-November phone interview, Mountain-Valley Executive Director Lance Doyle emphasized that the capacity to meet or exceed ambulance response times in the RFP was just one of 11 factors that the Mountain-Valley review committee took into consideration. Some other factors included vehicle fleet, personnel, community outreach planning, disaster preparedness, experience and financial strength.
A proposal review committee consisting of a rural public health officer, trauma program manager with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) experience, and an EMS administrator, among others, unanimously recommended ALA. The committee felt that the provider would “be able to meet and exceed requirements in the RFP based on their proposal,” Doyle said.
That said, “no matter which proposer was chosen, I think we would’ve had a good service in Calaveras,” Doyle said.
Gary Tofanelli, District 1 supervisor and county representative on the Mountain-Valley board could not be reached for comment.
How are ambulance services changing?
County residents in some areas should see shorter response times to 911 calls.
Before, an ambulance at its San Andreas post had the same amount of time to respond to a call in San Andreas as it would to a call coming from West Point. That’s no longer the case. Response times for a majority of calls across the county have been shortened from 20 minutes to 14 minutes, specifically for those coming from dense population centers like Angels Camp, Copperopolis and San Andreas.
Additionally, ambulances will now have navigation systems to improve efficiency, since currently the closest ambulance is not always dispatched to an emergency. The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center will now be able to see in real time where an ambulance is located. For instance, if an ambulance is returning to its post from Mark Twain Medical Center when a call from the San Andreas Airport comes in, the vehicle can be dispatched straight to the airport rather than sending a different unit posted farther away from the location.
While county residents in Angels Camp, Copperopolis and San Andreas should see shorter response times, “urban areas” (101 to 500 residents per square mile) that had less than 750 calls over a two-year period – including Glencoe, Mountain Ranch, Paloma, Rail Road Flat and West Point – now have a suburban response time standard of 20 minutes under the RFP.
A copy of the fire JPA’s proposal obtained via a public record acts request includes letters of support from Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, CCWD Director of Operations Damon Wyckoff, Sheriff Rick DiBasilio, California Highway Patrol Commander J.C. Warren and East Bay Municipal Utility District Watershed Manager Chris Swann.
Based on its proposal, ALA will continue to staff three 24-hour units at posts across Valley Springs, San Andreas and Angels Camp, along with a 12-hour day car in San Andreas that provides added support. ALA says an additional ambulance stationed in Pioneer will also provide service to the West Point and Wilseyville area.
A significant improvement in the Fire JPA’s proposal was to add two new ambulances to the fleet, one in Mountain Ranch and the other in Copperopolis.
ALA President Alan McNany did not respond to requests for comment regarding whether the provider plans to eventually offer services above and beyond what the RFP calls for.
“ALA has been a great partner in emergency response and we congratulate them on winning the RFP, and we are looking forward to continuing and improving EMS services with them in our county,” said John Rohrabaugh, spokesman for the Fire JPA.