A national ambulance company that is new to Buffalo is trying to win the city’s exclusive service contract in its push to gain a foothold in the upstate New York market.
And the city, which generates more than 30,000 calls a year, appears ready to work with a new company.
American Medical Response is one of three companies that has bid on the right to respond to ambulance calls in the city. It wants to take that work away from Rural/Metro Medical Services, which won the rights to be the city’s exclusive provider in 2005.
“The city made clear in its RFP that it was looking for a service improvement,” said Thomas J. Maxian, AMR general manager for New York and Ohio. “I think there is certainly opportunity in that.”
In the meantime, though, the Brown administration has submitted a four-month contract extension with Rural/Metro to the Common Council to potentially act upon Tuesday. Still, that would leave the current contract in place only through June 30, continuing a $29,166 monthly franchise fee that Rural/Metro pays the city.
AMR at one time operated downstate but currently has no contract for service in New York, and the company is trying to break in to markets in the Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse areas, said Maxian, who lives in Amherst and was CEO of Twin City Ambulance before he joined AMR in November.
AMR says it would need 60 to 90 days to hire emergency medical technicians and paramedics and purchase equipment in order to be fully operational in Buffalo.
The city’s timeline in proposing to extend Rural/Metro’s contract would appear to allow an out-of-town company such as AMR the time to become operational before a new contract takes effect.
The Colorado-based AMR has 19,000 employees and operates in 40 other states and the District of Columbia. AMR responded to the city’s request for proposals, which closed to new bids on Jan. 27.
In its response to bidders’ questions about the contract, the city originally said that bidders must have all of their licenses and authorizations – including a certificate of need – to work in New York.
But in a revision, the city said that it would invoke a certificate of need, a process that would allow a new company to operate in the city. A separate document the city prepared shows that the process of invoking a certificate of need already has been started.
The Buffalo News requested an interview with Rural/Metro, and the company responded with a brief statement saying that it is competing in the city’s bid process.
The Brown administration has not identified the third bidder, but in a memo to the Council states that all bids are thorough and offer the city “competitive alternatives.”
The News in 2012 reported on instances of Rural/Metro’s slow response times and thin coverage around the city. But Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr., chairman of the city’s ambulance board, said then that patient care had not suffered and that many ambulance calls are for things other than serious medical emergencies.
Council members have expressed interest in ensuring that whoever wins the new contract will have an adequate number of ambulances available at all times, though the Council has voted to extend Rural/Metro’s contract on several occasions.
A two-year extension to the five-year contract from 2005 expired June 30, 2012, and the Council has been granting shorter-term extensions since then. The most recent was a two-month extension in December.
Before Rural/Metro became the city’s first exclusive provider in 2005, it shared the city with Twin City Ambulance, based in Tonawanda. In 2005, competition for the exclusive contract came from an Ohio-based company, MedCorp.
Council President Darius G. Pridgen said that in the past he has been concerned about reports that Rural/Metro stations ambulances outside the city in order to avoid paying the city’s living wage. Company officials disputed that during a Council meeting last year.
Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Ball said the city needed extra time in order to do a thorough review of all the proposals, hence the latest proposal for an extension.
If selected, AMR would seek to hire between 150 and 300 full- and part-time EMTs and paramedics, Maxian said.
Paramedic Lon Fricano, who lives in Central New York and is a former Rural/Metro employee, said there is room in upstate New York for another ambulance provider.
“I would love to see AMR come in,” he said. “Nothing makes someone do their job better like stiff competition.”