BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) – A year of uncertainty over quality of service and patient care related to a private Emergency Medical Services provider appears to be ending. The contractor, Guardian EMS was also the subject of a KXAN Investigation in November that revealed failed state safety inspections and questioned response times.
This coming Friday, crews with Guardian’s bright yellow ambulances are due to finish packing up and Acadian Ambulance’s green and gold trucks will arrive in the sprawling rural county south of Austin that is quickly also becoming home to suburbanites in expanding communities like Cedar Creek.
Under the new one-year, provisional contract Bastrop County Commissioners signed off on Tuesday, Acadian will have a year to show it can provide better dispatch services from its Austin offices, more consistent response times and patient care, and most of all rebuild the trust in paramedic services some people feel was affected under six years with Guardian EMS.
In November, Mahala Hethorn told KXAN Investigator Robert Maxwell she called for paramedics complaining of a perforated ulcer that would require surgery to repair.
“I’m doubled over, screaming, crying and (the paramedic) wouldn’t do anything to help me and it was horrible,” she said of the 9-1-1 response a year ago March.
That story framed a number of complaints KXAN uncovered ranging from ‘lost’ paramedics who relied on a GPS routing system instead of maps to dispatchers using unprofessional language to EMS agencies in neighboring counties complaining Guardian EMS was making too many requests to cover its area when ambulances left the county.
Even though County leaders agreed to extend Guardian’s five-year contract earlier this year, a Request for Proposals also soon went out. This spring, Acadian won the bid based on an extensive scoring system. Guardian EMS managers agreed to move up their departure date to Friday May 30th from mid-July.
Acadian’s VP in Austin, Troy Meyer says he expects to run four, 24-hour ambulance crews and a separate day ambulance to cover the county. That was similar to Guardian’s contract. He says Acadian has other service contracts in nearby counties allowing it to move ambulances in and out as call volume increases. Right now, county officials say that is 500-600 calls a month.
“We can provide better back up in a lot quicker manner than what is being experience now,” Meyer said outside Commissioners Court Tuesday where County leaders unanimously approved the new contract, a lease of a county facility in Cedar Creek and a termination of Guardian’s contract, including repaying a $100,000 deposit once all County property such as radios are returned.
Unlike Guardian’s deal, Acadian will take no taxpayer subsidy which cost Bastrop taxpayers $380,000 a year over the six-year contract. Meyer says the company’s (patient transport) collectibles and other revenues will keep it in the black as it maintains service levels. County officials confirm Acadian will lease other private buildings to house its crews and equipment in Elgin, Bastrop and Smithville.
Terminations came the same week as contract end announced
This weekend, KXAN confirmed Guardian terminated several paramedic or EMT staff, letting them go as temporary staff arrived from other Guardian EMS centers in Houston and Corpus Christi. Guardian managers told KXAN there is no correlation between the firings and the end of the County contract.
One ousted Guardian medic who responded to KXAN queries by text wrote, “Most associates, including myself, were able to overlook (equipment issues) for years and make due with what we have… The people who are truly suffering are the citizens of Bastrop County.”
Guardian’s managers say they stand by the quality of service they offered Bastrop County residents during their contract period. The company recently merged with Georgetown-based Allegiance Ambulance.
Other medics who were told not to return after a shift on Saturday say they were told to expect a final termination notice this coming Friday, the same day Acadian is set to take over the service.
Acadian’s Meyer confirmed the firm is hiring about 20 former Guardian medics, some of whom live in the immediate area and have served the County for years. The new additions to Acadian’s team say they have been learning the company’s best practices this week before the official transition period of 5pm Friday.
The company is also expected to pay them at least 10 per cent more and offer benefits including a 401k plan and company stock options. Acadian’s Meyer says the company was formed by a paramedic and remains 80% employee-owned.