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Germantown closes in on ambulance decision


By Clay Bailey

After decades of study and consideration, Germantown appears on the verge of operating its own ambulance service instead of being part of a countywide contract.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday night will consider two items associated with ambulances: one regarding a city policy change that would address providing such a service; the second rejecting private company bids, leaving the city-based operation as the option. City Administrator Patrick Lawton said the administration is recommending the change, and the board has seen the gist of the program in a work session and a retreat last month.

I think this can really provide that customer service we give in Germantown. It's the right thing to do, fire chief John Selberg said.

Reports of Germantown considering its own ambulance service date to at least 1992 when Shelby County was threatening to change the terms of the contract for the participating suburbs. The idea and subsequent studies have been resurrected periodically ever since, but the idea was rejected.

The timing of the potential move is significant because the countywide contract with Rural/Metro, for which Germantown pays to participate, expires at the end of June. Five of the six suburbs -- Arlington, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington -- currently receive ambulance service under the county agreement. Each suburb is charged based on the number of calls within its jurisdiction.

Bartlett has its own ambulance service with an annual budget this fiscal year of about $2.3 million for four ambulances in service full time, according to Mark Brown, Bartlett chief administrative officer. That city has three others on reserve status.

Germantown currently pays $477,000 annually for its portion of the county contract. The county has received proposals for a new contract, and while the suburb considered staying in that agreement, officials also looked into hiring a private contractor for Germantown exclusively or the city providing transport service. The Fire Department already has paramedics and emergency medical technicians responding on calls, providing primary care at the scene. The difference would be transporting something that would keep patients under the care of Germantown personnel rather than the current arrangement in which patients are handed off to Rural/ Metro.

According to a study conducted by Germantown, the startup costs for the service would be about $672,000 $600,000 associated with purchasing four new ambulances. The city, under the proposal, would provide two primary ambulances and two in reserve. The startup costs would need to be spent during this fiscal year so Germantown is ready to assume the service July 1.

The study shows annual costs could run about $1.5 million in the fiscal year beginning in July and reach close to $2 million two and three years out. Some of those expenses would be offset by revenues and costs already earmarked for emergency medical responses.

Rural/Metro, which provides two ambulances housed in Germantown fire stations plus a supervisor, went through response time complaints years ago until the current five-year contract -- approved in 2007 with a one-year option to renew -- provided more of an oversight and review, plus a requirement that calls in the city are answered within 9 minutes 90 percent of the time.

And, while Rural/Metro was meeting the guidelines most of the time, the ambulances even though they were housed in Germantown fire stations answered calls outside the suburb under the countywide contract. Selberg said the fire department response time is about 5 minutes, and he expects ambulance service to be similar.

Additionally, the ambulances will be run under the city, have city employees and receive training through the fire department. Those are the levels of service and oversight the city wants, Lawton said, and the costs are comparable enough to make the move. He added he has no doubt the city will be able to provide a better quality service.

This is what people want, he said.

Originally published by Clay Bailey bailey@yourappeal.com 901-529-2393 .

© 2013 Commercial Appeal, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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