Commentary: Public-private ambulance option is best for the city

A very important issue will be considered Tuesday by the Costa Mesa City Council. Should existing fire department ambulances transport patients to the hospital or should the city continue to contract transportation to a private ambulance company?

As the interim fire chief for Costa Mesa, I had the privilege to facilitate a reorganization of the department to improve service and reduce costs. One major element of the reorganization was to place firefighter/paramedics on ambulances and have them transport patients to the hospital.

The City Council approved the reorganization but wanted a more in-depth review of the transportation component. A feasibility study by outside experts was commissioned and is now complete. The CMFD Ambulance Services Feasibility Study identifies four options. Three clearly illustrate the advantages of fire department ambulance transportation.

They include:

• Improved patient care;

• Expanded services and benefits to the community;

• A more effective and efficient use of existing fire department staff and apparatus;

• And dramatically improved cost recovery.

The study highlights what I have witnessed in my 33 years of fire service experience. Having the fire department provide integrated and timely transport is in the best interest of the patient.

Critically ill or injured patients can be transported immediately, resulting in faster access to life-saving hospital care. The cohesiveness of the emergency medical team members, including the tremendous amount of institutional knowledge and Costa Mesa firefighter/paramedic longevity, is crucial to excellent patient care.

When fire department paramedics transport their patients to the hospital, the community gains an additional service, and the council can develop patient-billing policies that will benefit Costa Mesa residents economically.

A fire department-based transport model for seriously ill and injured patients will streamline responses to medical emergencies and provide better utilization of existing resources. It requires fewer vehicles and personnel to respond and transport patients to the hospital while maintaining excellent patient care.

Having fire department firefighter/paramedics transport seriously ill or injured patients in city owned ambulances would substantially improve cost recovery by having existing insurance reimbursement funds come to the city.

Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch and Fire Chief Dan Stefano have analyzed the study and, with their knowledge of the community and the services required, are recommending Option 3 which is a public/private partnership. This option has firefighter/paramedics transporting the more serious patients while private ambulances transport less-serious patients that don’t require paramedic care. The recommendation was carefully considered and is a rational next step in the reorganization of the fire department.

Our city currently has the ambulances to do this. Well-trained and highly motivated firefighter/paramedics are career professionals who are ready and willing to do what is best for the community they serve.

I encourage our City Council to follow the CEO and fire chief’s recommendation to implement Option 3. I believe it will meet community expectations for excellent, cost effective fire, rescue, and emergency medical services that will serve us well into the future.

TOM ARNOLD recently served as interim fire chief for the city of Costa Mesa.