COSTA MESA – The Costa Mesa Fire Department, citing efficiency and costs savings, is simplifying the way seriously injured patients are transported to hospitals.
Under the current system, three vehicles respond to medical emergency calls — a city-owned ambulance, a fire truck and an ambulance from privately-owned Care Ambulance Service.
Patients with serious injuries are taken to the hospital in the Care Ambulance Service vehicle, which has a firefighter paramedic inside, and followed by the city’s ambulance.
On Tuesday, April 18, the City Council unanimously endorsed a staff-recommended system where only a fire truck and fire department ambulance will respond to such calls. The caveat is that the city will contract with a private company to provide a driver for the ambulance, which will also carry the firefighter paramedic.
“The model that we’re putting forth today is not anything new,” Costa Mesa fire Chief Dan Stefano told the council. “I’ve worked within the system so it is something that is functional… it’s effective.”
For calls involving injuries that are less significant, two emergency medical technicians from the private company will transport the patient in the city ambulance.
During instances when additional rescue vehicles are needed, the Fire Department will bring in one of the three city ambulances not being used in the new system, Stefano said.
The change is expected to save the city $1.9 million a year, according to a staff report.
Since 2008, the city has contracted with Care Ambulance to provide emergency transport and billing services. That essentially left most of the six ambulances the city purchased for $1.6 million three years ago sitting idle.
Currently, only two are in service, said Capt. Rob Gagne, president of the Costa Mesa Firefighter Association. He said the vehicles have primarily followed the private ambulances taking patients to hospitals.
The city will put out separate requests for proposals for ambulance companies and patient billings services. Stefano said he expects the new model to be up and running by Jan. 1.
Mayor Katrina Foley said she would rather the city have its own ambulance service with city employees.
“I’m looking at this as a phasing,” she said.
Gagne agreed, saying he would ultimately like to see city employees transporting patients.
If the savings don’t fall within 10 percent of projections at the end of the program’s first year, Stefano said he will bring the matter back to the council for discussion.
In 2013, Righeimer and former council members Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan voted to keep the current transport model as a way to outsource city services to save money.
Almost all council members at the time — and firefighters and an independent city-hired analyst — agreed the system was imperfect.
Righeimer said at the time he did not believe claims from city staff that the extra work by Fire Department employees could be done at no extra…