Costa Mesa ambulance plan flatlines

COSTA MESA — City leaders’ idea to add private paramedics to the county’s roster doesn’t have a pulse, at least for now, City Councilman Jim Righeimer said Wednesday.

“We don’t need one more request for proposals right now,” Righeimer said. “It’s not a pressing issue.”

The idea, first pitched by Righeimer, was to have Care Ambulance employees work as paramedics, a higher designation than the emergency medical technician, or EMT, duties they now have.

Critics claimed the move would be the first step toward laying off Costa Mesa paramedics and displacing them with Care employees, who respond to medical emergencies along with firefighters anyway.

Typically, when people get into a car crash or has some other medical emergency, they’re taken to the hospital in a Care Ambulance after getting checked out by Fire Department paramedics.

In a letter dated March 2, Costa Mesa city leaders reached out to the Orange County Emergency Medical Services (OCEMS) to ask if increasing Care medics’ scope of work was worth examining. The county responded that it could consider it at Costa Mesa’s request.

OCEMS laid out the steps that Care would have to go through if it wanted to start paramedic work in Orange County.

That notion didn’t go far, though.

In a March 8 letter to Costa Mesa Chief Executive Tom Hatch, Care Ambulance Chief Executive Rick Richardson echoed what a Costa Mesa Fire Department official told the council at their March 1 meeting: Orange County is a model of medical service and shouldn’t be changed.

Righeimer suggested Care paramedics could save lives should they arrive at the scene of a crash first.

It’s rare that Care arrives first, Richardson said. And life-saving work like defibrillation and CPR are already in Care’s scope of work, he said.

“As Costa Mesa Fire Department’s partner in providing residents with emergency transports, we are proud of our service to your community,” Richardson’s letter read. “The current EMS system allows that partnership to work seamlessly.”

In both the public’s and council’s mind, other things have taken priority. The city is in the middle of a police chief recruitment, reviewing the Orange County Fire Authority’s proposal to absorb the city’s Fire Department and outsourcing more than 100 other employees.

Righeimer said Care Ambulance’s response told him one thing.

“It just tells me we need to get a new ambulance company that’s willing to give the services we need.”