Laguna Beach moves ahead with startup costs for city-run ambulance service

Laguna Beach is moving forward with an in-house ambulance service. Fire Station No. 2 is shown above.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach expects to have an in-house ambulance transport service up and running by July 1, and the City Council addressed a handful of staffing and operational matters for the program on Tuesday night.

City staff made several requests concerning the program, including the addition of 12 ambulance operators and one ambulance coordinator to the budget for the current fiscal year.

In preparation to debut the city-run service this summer, the council authorized the purchase of start-up equipment. A resolution was also adopted establishing the titles of and the wages to be paid for ambulance operators and ambulance coordinators.

The city looked at the option to have the ambulances staffed by firefighter paramedics, but the decision was made to go with ambulance operators. Staffing the ambulances with paramedics would have resulted in an increased cost of about $1.3 million.

Startup costs for the ambulance program are estimated at $393,400, a cost covered by funds previously set aside for it, according to a staff report. The program is anticipated to break even in terms of the proposed budget and revenue for the upcoming fiscal year. Staff’s projections place the appropriations and revenue both in the neighborhood of $1.8 million. The council has approved a base rate of $2,800 for ambulance transport services.

The city-run ambulance service, which was initially approved on Dec. 14, will have two ambulances staffed with EMT ambulance operators. The full-time ambulances will be placed at Fire Station 1, located at 501 Forest Ave. and Fire Station 4 at 31646 2nd Ave., giving the city coverage in North and South Laguna. A third ambulance would run out of Fire Station 2, at 285 Agate St., for periods of high demand.

The city will also purchase three chest compression systems at an amount not to exceed $49,000, as well as three gurneys and accompanying devices designed to transport a patient downstairs, budgeted at $48,000.

“This is a major improvement for the safety and welfare of our community to own and control our ambulance service,” said Tom Gibbs, a member of Laguna Beach’s Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee. “This is particularly true given our aging community and increased need for prompt, reliable and quality ambulance service.”

A review of the ambulance program will be provided to the City Council at the end of the first year.

The city will contract with Wittman Enterprises for billing services, agreeing to pay 4.5% of revenue collected to the consultant.

Fire Chief Mike Garcia said the one-year review could lead to changes if collections prove problematic.

“I believe that we were pretty conservative in the way we approached our revenues to account for that, and along with the other budgeting, what we’re going to have to look at in the year-end [review]. If we come forward and we’re not able to make the collections, we’re going to have to make some program adjustments, as well,” Garcia said. “Maybe we have to cut down to an ambulance or not, but just like a private company would have to do the same thing based on those revenues.”

Before unanimously moving forward with the recommendations, the council also requested that city staff return in June with a report on the readiness of the in-house ambulance program, as well as a report from Wittman as to how it will facilitate collections.

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