EL PASO, Texas - El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar made waves with the county's long-standing ambulance services contract Monday.
Life Ambulances has held an ambulance services contract for El Paso County since 1983. Traditionally they sign three-year contracts. In 2012, they approved a single year contract.Escobar referred to the contract as "evergreen," and questioned whether it was a good time to review the contract and possible savings as it expires at the end of September.
According to Escobar, the contract is annually worth $400,000.
"That's why I would recommend a month-to-month if Life Ambulance is willing so we have the opportunity to dialogue with the ESDs," said Escobar. "I do think it's in our best opportunity to go out to bid."
Representatives from Life Ambulance were on hand. They spoke against a proposed month-to-month extension that would allow the county time to go out to bid. Company representatives stated it would unnerve customers who count on their services in the county. They also pointed out that the company has an additional $2 million in employee costs than when the contract started, however, they're not asking for more money. The company relies on insurance payments, and Medicaid payments to help reimburse costs.
"I know you see Life Ambulance as a vendor, but we are not a vendor" said Life Ambulance President Rachel Harricksingh. "Some years we make a profit, some years we lose money but we truly love what we do."
As Escobar proposed expediting the process and determining whether Emergency Services Departments could handle the workload themselves, Life Ambulances came back and said a one-year contract would be less appealing but doable.
Emergency Services Districts already perform fire duties in the county. There have been previous talks about having them take over ambulance duties.
At least one of the departments is already performing some ambulatory-type duties.
"I don't know if it's extensive, but I know they do some," said Lee Shapleigh, a member of the county attorney's office.
Commissioner Sergio Lewis questioned going month-to-month given what he called "excellent service" Life Ambulance has given the county over the past 30 years. He said he's OK if the court moved in that direction, but asked that the county is diligent and makes sure that the move is data-driven.
"I feel like we're putting ourselves in a box; I don't think we need to do that," said Lewis.
Eventually talks moved toward a one-year contract with a 30- or 60-day "out" clause. During that time commissioners will review "best practices" throughout the state and determine in ESDs are capable of handling the workload, or if a lower bid exists. Commissioners approved that move with a 4 to 0 vote.