A new countywide ambulance service contract was approved 3-1 at the Riverside County Board of Supervisor’s Tuesday morning meeting. Only 1st District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries opposed it, because he favored new competition for the contract.
In the new contract, effective July 1, the county ambulance provider, American Medical Response, will take over emergency medical service to Pine Cove and the areas known as zones 2 and 3 in the existing contract between Idyllwild Fire Protection District and Riverside County.
IFPD retains its exclusive operating area — the Idyllwild Fire District — but its contract with the county to provide ambulance and emergency medical service outside the fire district will expire after June 30.
Pine Cove residents will not longer reimburse the county for ambulance service beyond the cost of the actual call and transport, if necessary. Since the 1990s, Pine Cove residents have paid, through their County Service Area 38 parcel fees, for the ambulance service from IFPD.
“[Former] Supervisor [Jeff] Stone made that commitment and the county will honor the commitment [to drop the parcel fees],” said Bruce Barton, director of Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency. “We will not waffle.”
In February 2014, when the board decided to renegotiate the countywide ambulance contract with AMR, Stone explicitly tasked Barton with finding a way to include service for Pine Cove in the negotiations.
“… I have constituents in Idyllwild and Pine Cove, especially Pine Cove, that pay a fee for ambulance services. If we go with [this option], is it assumed that we will be working with AMR to provide for ambulance coverage in that underserved area?” Stone asked Barton.
And the new contract does relieve these residents of the additional fee collected and paid through their CSA property taxes and a parcel fee.
Many areas of the county have a much higher call and transport volume than the Hill and the rest of the Mountain Plateau area. Because of AMR’s will-serve to these highly profitable areas, Barton said, “[T]hese pay for them to take lower-call volume areas which don’t generate enough revenue.”
This fiscal year, the CSA 38 cost for the Pine Cove ambulance service to IFPD is $128,900. With the county’s payment to IFPD for service to zones 2 and 3, which extend north of Pine Cove, IFPD will receive nearly a total of $180,000 in 2014-15. In addition, there will be fewer transports of patients to hospitals., which means IFPD may lose about $225,000 a year starting July 1.
In 2013, 61 of IFPD’s 317 transports were from Pine Cove and Zone 3. Through November 2014, Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz reported that 53 of its 360 patient transports were from outside the district. So perhaps 15 to 20 percent of the district’s ambulance receipts, or an additional $50,000 to $70,000, also are in jeopardy.
IFPD officials have consistently insisted the district loses money providing this service. Consequently, the money saved maybe able to help the district with its current financial condition. When asked about the contract’s effect on the IFPD’s revenues, Chief Patrick Reitz replied, “The district has been and will continue to be supportive of the proposed contract between Riverside County and AMR. The district maintains an excellent working relationship with both [Riverside Emergency Medical Services] and AMR and will continue to into the future.”
AMR already stations an ambulance in the Anza area and is expected to find a location in Pine Cove. County Fire Station 23 is the most likely location, but no formal agreement has been reached, according to Barton and County Fire Chief John Hawkins. Thus, AMR will have coverage at both ends of the Mountain Plateau area.
“There could be more resources in the future if we can develop a public/private partnership,” Barton added.
Within Pine Cove, the maximum acceptable response time will be 12 minutes; it currently is 10 minutes for IFPD. Along highways 371 and 74 and all of Garner Valley, the response time is set at 20 minutes. Most of the remainder of this ambulance zone will receive 30-minute response, except for the isolated wilderness areas, which will have 60-minute response goals.