Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, March 15 @ noon / Community, Emergencies

Del Norte Ambulance Seeks Agreement to Answer 911 Medical Calls Exclusively in Del Norte

For the first time in its existence, Del Norte Ambulance is seeking an exclusive operating agreement to provide 911 service in Del Norte County. | Photo courtesy of Del Norte Ambulance


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Though it’s already the only ambulance service in Del Norte County that responds to 911 calls, Del Norte Ambulance is seeking an exclusive operating agreement representatives say could save the county money and ensure emergency medical services stay local.

Del Norte Ambulance, which has been operating since the mid 1970s, seeks to be grandfathered into the exclusive operating agreement, said General Manager John Pritchett.

North Coast Emergency Medical Services, the joint powers authority that oversees ambulance services in Del Norte, Humboldt and Lake counties has already determined Del Norte ambulance qualifies for the grandfathering process, Pritchett told the Wild Rivers Outpost.

He also pointed to California Health and Safety Code 1797.200, which states that emergency medical services can forego seeking competitive bids for an exclusive operating agreement if they’ve been in continual operation since 1981.

“We think the best service is a local service,” Pritchett told the Outpost. “Folks who know where Elk Valley Road is as compared to Elk Valley Cross Road and folks who know the code for Sutter Coast Hospital. A local service is more responsive to the needs of the community than a large service.”

Del Norte Ambulance is asking the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors to approve its efforts to seek an exclusive operating agreement. Once that’s done, it’s sent to North Coast EMS, which would develop a “transportation plan” the joint powers authority would have to approve.

According to Pritchett, the “transportation plan” will look at what the 911 system should look like in Del Norte County.

The California Emergency Medical Services Authority would also have to approve Del Norte Ambulance’s proposed exclusive operating agreement, according to Pritchett.

Last week, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, which is tasked with approving Del Norte Ambulance’s rates, formed an ad-hoc committee consisting of District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short and his District 2 colleague, Valerie Starkey.

Short, who initially wanted to form a committee that included local fire chiefs, hospital personnel and county Behavioral Health representatives, said he wanted to bring as much information to his colleagues as he possibly could.

“The statute of the EOA process is very short. Most of the rules that we live by are covered in case law,” Short said, adding that he’s spoken with Larry Karsteadt, North Coast EMS executive director, about the process. “When I do bring the item to the Board, my intent is to bring as much information and background as possible.”

If it had an exclusive operating agreement, Del Norte Ambulance would be able to assure its creditors that it can meet its contractural obligations “without fear that some international holding company will come in and try to force local services out,” Pritchett said.

According to Pritchett, Sonoma County-based Falck Northern California “tried to come into Humboldt County,” which prompted Arcata Mad River Ambulance and City Ambulance in Eureka to go through the EOA process.

“We want to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Pritchett said.

There’s also a benefit to the county, according to Pritchett. If Del Norte Ambulance didn’t have an EOA, the county would have to put the contract for 911 EMS service out to bid every few years and have to pay between $75,000 and $200,000 each time it came up for renewal, he said.

In other communities, if an EMS contract has been awarded to a major conglomerate, that corporation often returns halfway through the contract and says it has to reduce services or terminate the contract, Pritchett said.

“This often leads to lawsuits, which costs counties even more of (their) limited funds,” he said. “And once a county gets to the RFP system, it can never go back. It will always be an expensive RFP process.”

Last week, speaking to the Board of Supervisors, Pritchett took issue with the way Short had proposed setting up the ad-hoc committee. He noted that the county’s taxpayers already pays for oversight through the North Coast EMS joint powers authority and said Del Norte Ambulance was conspicuously absent from the proposed list of committee members.

“We think the question the ad-hoc committee needs to ask is what is the level of service needed in Del Norte County with this population base, with this payer mix, with services that are available locally and regionally and the long-term impacts of COVID and the future of paramedicine,” Pritchett told supervisors. “What is needed to provide an appropriate level of service?”

Del Norte Ambulance’s efforts to obtain an exclusive operating agreement in Del Norte County comes after it partnered with MetroWest, the largest ambulance provider in Oregon, to provide emergency medical dispatch services through Bay Cities Ambulance in Coos Bay.

This transition meant less traffic on the local dispatch system operated through the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, Pritchett told the Wild Rivers Outpost in July 2021.


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