Fire Deparment, hospital to expand transport partnership

Fire Deparment, hospital to expand transport partnership

Michele Ellson
Alameda Fire Department BLS

Photo from the City of Alameda website.

The Alameda Fire Department is preparing to expand the non-emergency transport services it provides to patients at Alameda Hospital who need rides to appointments and other health care facilities. The City Council is set to consider changes to the contract between both entities on Tuesday.

In an effort to generate revenue, the department initiated a two-year pilot to provide non-emergency basic life support transport in July 2012. The department and hospital managers inked a deal to work together a few weeks after the pilot’s officials July 1 kickoff date.

The contract changes will see the department handling gurney and wheelchair transports, which the department had once handled but ultimately learned had been reclassified and handed off to other ambulance companies, a report penned by Fire Chief Michael D’Orazi for the council’s Tuesday meeting says. The department’s new service handled a high of 57 transports for the hospital in October 2012, and a low of zero transports this past February.

“While these non-emergency patient transportation services fall within the general category of BLS, the services were not clearly outlined in the District’s initial agreement with the Fire Department. Therefore, the District contracted with other private, non-Alameda ambulance companies to provide these services,” the report says.

In addition to servicing transport calls, the department will parcel out calls for service it can’t fulfill to a trio of private transport providers and will manage all the billing for those services.

Data gathered as a result of the contract changes, expected to go into effect Wednesday, will allow the fire department to decide whether the pilot program should be halted – or expanded, D’Orazi’s report says.

The partnership “has provided the community with local, reliable service by professional Emergency Medical Technicians,” Chief Executive Officer Deborah E. Stebbins wrote in a May 1 report to the Alameda Health Care District Board of Directors, which oversees the hospital, and will help the department increase revenues.

“It is the goal of AFD to expand their volume and revenue through the provision of more comprehensive coverage, which in turn will justify expanded equipment in the Fire Department,” Stebbins wrote.

The department pitched the basic life support service to the City Council in February 2012, in an effort to reap the benefits of what they said was a growing demand for non-emergency transport services. D’Orazi said the service could earn $72,879 in its initial year of operation and $218,853 over the course of the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The department planned to hire a half-dozen emergency medical technicians at $17 an hour to staff the new service, which would work with skilled nursing facilities, dialysis units, hospitals and medical offices to provide services that had been offered by private, off-Island companies.

“The Department is confident that name recognition, reputation, local service, and aggressive marketing will make Alameda competitive in this endeavor,” D’Orazi wrote in a February 2012 report to the council.

A department spokesman couldn't say Monday whether the program was hitting revenue targets or whether other care providers in Alameda were using the service. He said the information would be available after Tuesday's council meeting.

D’Orazi, who also billed the service as a potential training ground for future fire department recruits, said Alameda Hospital was under contract with AMR to provide non-emergency transport services. (In her May 1 report, Stebbins said the hospital had been working with multiple transport providers.)

As the contract was being negotiated, in April 2012, Stebbins told the hospital board that income from the non-emergency transport service would help the department fund its existing ambulance service, which has lost money instead of reaping the profits fire managers once hoped it would but could also be costly and difficult to replace.

Using the department’s service, patients and care facilities can directly schedule transports to other facilities, doctor’s and dialysis appointments; the service also offers event standbys and CPR training.

Under the new agreement, a critical care trip would cost $838, while a non-emergency ride would cost $257.65. Gurney transport would cost $120 and a wheelchair transport, $35. Additional charges for mileage and waiting times would also apply.