Another View: Sacramento can save money by contracting out ambulance service

Published: Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 - 12:00 am

The Sacramento Bee’s editorial ( “City must get to bottom of Sacramento fire overtime costs,” Jan. 29) makes a great case for carefully reviewing the exorbitant overtime paid in the city of Sacramento for Fire Department staff, who primarily provide emergency medical services. However, the proposal to use non-public safety emergency medical technicians to reduce costs is only a small step toward resolving the city’s Fire Department funding problems.

Another, more cost-effective option already exists. There are private companies accredited to provide advanced life support ambulance service in Sacramento right now. According to the Sacramento County Emergency Medical Services Plan and the State EMS Authority, the city Fire Department does not have exclusive rights to provide ambulance services. This area is supposed to be an open market for ambulance service in which 911 calls are rotated to all qualified providers based on their location in relation to the caller. But because the Fire Department controls the 911 dispatch center, it refuses to allow calls to be directed to any of the other competent, qualified ambulances services available in the area.

Beginning immediately, the city Fire Department should begin dispatching accredited, private, advanced life support ambulances that are already on the streets by integrating their GPS-equipped units into the city system. This would add 30 to 50 ambulances into the system per day, thereby greatly reducing the need for overtime staffing.

Over the longer term, the city should follow the example of numerous communities statewide that have put their ambulance service out to bid, allowing all companies to compete to provide ambulance service under local government oversight. Throughout California, private ambulance companies have historically provided emergency medical response. They have the same level of training, equipment and oversight as Fire Department staff, yet they are able to provide the service at no cost to taxpayers and without adding to the city’s pension liability.

In order to provide high quality, efficient ambulance service to city residents at the lowest cost, the City Council should consider making use of available non-government resources to control overtime and following the lead of other cities who have rid themselves of the cost of providing EMS while ensuring excellent emergency medical service to their communities and put ambulance service for Sacramento out to public bid.

June Iljana is executive director of the California Ambulance Association.

Read more articles by June Iljana

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