EMS bid posted in Bastrop County

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BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) - A closer look into Bastrop County’s newly-approved bid for EMS services shows it is farther reaching than the existing contract the current private provider Guardian EMS won in 2008.

The 44-page bid proposal is broken into two categories:

  • Minimum requirements:  such as the ambulance provider’s ability to operate 24/7 and to be insured.
  • Desired conditions:  including an end to subsidies, more transparency with response time reports, access to vehicle inspections and transferring dispatch duties to the Sheriff’s Office.

County Commissioners agreed to the Request for Proposals on Jan. 13 from Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Fisher. It is the result of a consultant’s report into Bastrop’s EMS service. A county working group recommended the outside look last year after a series of complaints about the service to county officials.

GOING IN-DEPTH The issues facing Bastrop’s EMS made us wonder just how many communities use private, for-profit companies for 911 and emergency services.As it turns out, it’s fairly rare.

  • Travis and Williamson Counties maintain their own EMS services, while Burnet Fire manages their EMS.
  • A local non-profit runs ambulance services in Marble Falls and in Hays County, while volunteers fulfill that need in Blanco County.
  • Seton Healthcare operates in Caldwell County and Scott And White oversees EMS in Llano. Both are non-profit hospital groups.

In November, a KXAN Investigation revealed some of the formal complaints, including a lack of professionalism among some Guardian EMS paramedics and dispatchers, and company ambulances failing state inspections due to cracked windshields or broken A/C units. Some also had under-stocked medicine drawers.

While the request for proposals indicates the county will consider bids that request a subsidy, it would prefer those that do not. Currently, Guardian EMS receives $383,000 a year from the county to offset the cost of running its for-profit service.

In November, Guardian COO Ross Bradley said, “I’m hired to manage an EMS system and you have to trust me to do that. You can hire an EMS company to come in here and say ‘You can only do…emergency work. You cannot do non-emergency work.’ (But in that case), the price goes up because I have no way to subsidize that. So it’s a give and take.”

Bradley said due to population growth and more calls for service, Guardian already provides more than the weekly number of service hours than the original 2008 contract requires. He says the company absorbs the cost difference of running an extra ambulance for a 12-hour shift each week.

“There are times when call volume exceeds anything that was planned for,” said Bradley, “and that plan started with the contract back in 2008. And we’ve kept the growth up for it.”

The new bid proposal also calls for faster response time requirements for the growing Cedar Creek community in western Bastrop. The area is no longer defined as rural due to its population base and four BISD schools.

There’s also a new condition to include an EMS community involvement plan to promote overall health and injury prevention, including a local website.

Guardian’s CEO Ricky Powell told said last week he intends to bid for the new contract which must be in place by the time Guardian’s existing automatic, two-year contract extension ends in May 2015.

The deadline for submittals is Feb. 20, 2014. The total number of bidders will be kept private until a provider is selected. Any deal would last 12 months and include a review period after which the contract could be extended for as long as 10 years.

Private vs. Non-profit

Bastrop County’s arrangement with a private EMS provider is a rarity in Central Texas, outside the realm of the non-emergency patient transport  business.

  • In Travis County, The City of Austin and county run the ambulance service.
  • In Williamson County, the county also runs the service funded through user fees and property tax subsidies.
  • In Hays County, San Marcos-Hays County EMS is run as a non profit service.
  • In Caldwell, non-profit Seton Healthcare Group took over the Lockhart City/ Caldwell ambulance service two years ago.
  • In Burnet, the Fire Department handles EMS calls
  • In Llano County, EMS is also county-run ambulance service dispatched through the Sheriff’s Office although Marble Falls has its own non-profit service serving communities in both counties.
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