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County will consider AMR ambulance contract

by: PHOTO COURTESY: AMR - American Medical Response personnel bring 10 ambulances to the scene of the Dec. 11 Clackamas Town Center shooting within 30 minutes.American Medical Response executives expressed relief after Clackamas County commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to look at their bid for continuing local ambulance services.

County Chairman John Ludlow and Commissioner Jim Bernard both voted against a motion by Commissioner Paul Savas, which Commissioner Martha Schrader seconded, to continue with the process using the one bid that was received on time. After reviewing the bid, commissioners could still vote to reject AMR’s proposal and restart another bidding process.

Although details remain shrouded in mystery, AMR’s main Portland-area competitor, Metro West Ambulance, is rumored to have missed the deadline, while Rural/Metro Ambulance didn’t follow through on a pledge to bid: Rural/Metro steps into contract fight, Feb. 6. Metro West did not respond to calls for comment on Tuesday, and county commissioners have agreed to a “blackout” on talking about the issues until this month’s staff analysis of AMR’s bid.

Bernard voted against the process on April 30 despite his admission at a Jan. 22 work session that elected officials had gone too far in trying to replace AMR. After meeting with Bernard on AMR issues, Clackamas Fire District No. 1 has since backed off of its stance that the contract should go to bid. But rather than opting for automatic annual contract extensions, county officials spent more than $50,000 to hire consultant Polaris Group to construct a proposal process for new ambulance contracts, as previously reported in County digs into ambulance contract, Jan. 30.

After attending this week’s county work session, AMR General Manager Randy Lauer expressed surprise at Bernard and Ludlow’s “no” votes. AMR netted about $12.5 million last year, but only 1.2 percent of that was profit in Clackamas County after paying an annual $365,000 franchise fee, and another $640,000 payment goes to fire departments and the system-enhancement fund.

“They had laid out a fairly complex process for bidders to follow, and we thought we had followed it exactly,” Lauer said. “If they had decided to change directions, they would have had a big political mess on their hands and a lot of explaining to do. So, the county made the right decision.”

Lauer noted that AMR’s bid proposes to continue its current programs and “really strives to build a foundation to keep AMR in step with health care reform” efforts that are moving fast in Oregon. Meanwhile, since its current contract doesn’t run out until May 1, 2014, the company is training employees for a busy wilderness and river-rescue season from Memorial Day through Labor Day. AMR provides a lifeguard-safety program at High Rocks, the popular Clackamas River swimming hole between Gladstone and Oregon City.

AMR’s “Reach and Treat” team also responds to falls and other Mt. Hood National Forest incidents. A climber who fell over the crest of Hogsback on Mt. Hood on Wednesday, May 1, was identified as Robert Finke, 52, of Gladstone. Reportedly in stable condition, Finke was accompanied by a member of Portland Mountain Rescue who happened to be climbing in the same area, joined by a member of Timberline's Ski Patrol and members of AMR.

Because remote areas of Clackamas County “rely on AMR’s excellent service, response time and experience,” Jon Tullis, spokesman for the Timberline hotel and ski resort, added his name last week to the many regional leaders writing letters to the county encouraging commissioners not to waste any more time and money through the contract bidding process. He wrote that AMR acquired “essential skills and knowledge” to tackle challenging alpine conditions and difficult emergency scenarios.

“This knowledge and practical experience would be very difficult to replace,” he wrote. “We strongly believe that AMR’s experience and services, including search-and-rescue skills, is invaluable not only to those in need of those services, but to the overall reputation for world-class travel and outdoor recreation here in Clackamas County’s Mount Hood Territory.”

Emergency medical response plays an important role the county’s tourism industry, Tullis said, because visitors need to know that if something should go wrong, there is a specialized team already in place that can be called upon. AMR’s “RAT Team” out of Government Camp are “at the ready to react quickly and efficiently in situations where time literally can mean life or death,” Tullis wrote in describing AMR’s long history in Clackamas County.

“While we appreciate the commissioners’ fiduciary responsibility, we caution them from making a decision for emergency medical services based solely on money, and we see no compelling reason to change a system that has proven itself to work well,” he wrote. “The commissioners should honor AMR’s track record and renew their contract.”