Oxnard Moves to Take Local Control of EMS Ambulance Services

 

 

By Doug Partello  

The City of Oxnard moves to take over EMS ambulance services, cut Ventura County EMS Services(VCEMS), and AMR/Gold Coast Ambulance Service(GCA) out of the picture, per the recommendation of interim Oxnard Fire Chief, Alexander Hamilton. He claims poor response times, high cost, private companies choosing money over saving lives, Oxnard citizens getting back burner attention, especially poorer neighborhoods, and city leaders and OFD not being heard over concerns about EMS ambulance service to the City. But VCEMS (Ventura County Emergency Medical Services) and GCA (Gold Coast Ambulance) paint a far different picture.

Oxnard Fire Dept. Interim Chief Alexander Hamilton presented a recommendation, at the 11/17/20 City Council Meeting, to continue a feasibility study, and provide consultation by AP Triton on ambulance services and billing, through 1/31/2022.

The motivations stated by Chief Hamilton for changing the delivery of EMS services for Oxnard were poor response times, high costs, and a desire to assert local control. He claims that millions of dollars can be saved and service improved dramatically by bringing it in house, staffed with firefighters. This passed 7-0 by City Council. It was initially presented at the Public Safety Committee Meeting 11/18/2020, which passed 3-0. Hamilton also made a presentation at the previous city council meeting.


At the Safety Meeting Hamilton included the recommendation of increasing OFD staffing by 24 FTEs (Full Time Equivalent employees) to provide EMS services through the City. An Oxnard firefighter costs approximately The median salary for Oxnard firefighter is $53K, plus generous benefits and pension. The average salary for a paramedic ambulance driver working for a private company is $15/hour, without the pension. In other words about half the salary, no pension.  Training academy and overhead costs are additional. 


At the latest council meeting, on Dec. 1st, the notice to end the Joint Powers Agreement with Ventura County for EMS ambulance services, and move forward with other options was recommended by Alexander Hamilton, OFD. This passed 7-0. 


The Ventura County EMS System had an Assessment Report done, contracted with Page, Wolfberg, & Wirth, LLC on January 18, 2019. In March & April of that year the assessment was done, and the analysis was shared at meetings with the stakeholders. There were recommendations made, but the overall report was that the system is functioning well. There are seven Exclusive Operating Areas (EOA) for the County. Oxnard is No. 6, with Gold Coast Ambulance (GCA) designated for this area. Lifeline, and AMR are the others. In 2010, AMR took over GCA.

Oxnard now has a much different perspective on the quality of service for its residents and visitors. Interim Chief Hamilton in his presentation to City Council stated that the 90% compliance threshold was met by GCA, (92%), but with exemptions, . Without exemptions, such as distance,rural areas, gated communities delays, red lights, traffic, it was 78%. The goal set by VCEMS is 90%. The response times vary based upon many factors, but essentially 8 minutes within the City. This is a critical factor in patient survivability, length of hospital stays, and outcomes.

He further claimed a $2.7 million savings to the City, which would be reinvested in OFD EMS services. The total revenue from the AP Triton assessment of current service was presented as $7.7 million, with a comparison cost of $5 million for OFD providing services. These figures were promoted even with the public pension liability, and higher salaries, and benefits of OFD paramedics, versus the GCA staff. Training academy and overhead add additional costs. The average firefighter makes $200K, including benefits and pension. There are additional costs in certifications, ongoing educational hours, seminars, overtime, and community outreach programs suggested. Paramedics get additional pay for added responsibilities.


Many questions were raised at the Dec. 1st City Council Meeting, which would vote to end the JPA, and change the delivery of this vital public service. Jeremy Shumaker, Regional Director of Operations for GCA, disputed facts given by Chief Hamilton. In 2019 there were over 15,000 ambulance responses with on scene compliance of 92.34%, without exemptions, and 96% with exemptions. The 78% given by Hamilton false. He stated that average response times within 5 minutes, which is below industry standards. The AP Triton cost per hour given at $274 also stated as false, and the OFD being a cheaper option, also false, per Mr. Schumaker. He stated to me the actual per hour cost is $121/hour. He mentioned that Oxnard Fire providing a cheaper service, with the same quality is an impossibility with the public pension liability the City would shoulder, which a private company does not. VCEMS supported the figures he shared. AP Triton cited dispatcher data as the source of response times. 


The issue of bias was raised by both sides on this issue. Members of the City Council, and Mr. Hamilton expressed bias by VCEMS toward Oxnard in lack of priority in ambulance allocation unit hours,particularity to South Oxnard, and a say in how that works within the County system, and expressed concerns of bias in the Assessment Report data. Concerns were raised by citizens, and questions by Council member Bert Perillo, about whether this was an attempt by OFD to increase staffing, and that the AP Triton report is a “quid pro quo” relationship, as they would gain $72K/year for three years as a vendor to OFD, should OFD get the EMS contract. 

There were concerns expressed about the process, and lack of communication to stakeholders, specifically, VCEMS, and GCA, in being blind sided by this move. The City Manager,Chief Hamilton, and some Council members countered that argument, stating that “hints were given” at prior meetings, calls and emails were made voicing some concerns about service. 

Two former paramedics for GCA had differing views on the quality of service related to response time, ambulance availability, and community commitment. Tony Norton, thirty-nine year paramedic, who worked for GCA, stated that when AMR took over in 2010 things changed. He was sent to other areas where outside the area ambulances were needed to come in to respond to calls. He felt that the local community spirit in dealing with clients with difficulties was not the same. Another paramedic for GCA felt the false data, and perception of poor service was completely false. ER physician Daniel Shepard  took great exception to the statement from Mr. Hamilton and a Council member that there is a price on mortality. In other words money over saving lives. He felt the process was not inclusive, as he was not communicated to by the City before such a drastic step was taken. Mr. Hamilton conceded that Dr. Shepard was not notified.

Steve Carroll, VCEMS Administrator, stated that a bias against Oxnard was completely not accurate. He worked closely with the former Oxnard Fire Chief, in 2018, to develop the paramedic program for the City, when concerns were raised about ALS services to Oxnard. He backed the data from the VCEMS Assessment, and compliance and performance measures met by GCA. He stated that the agreed upon coverage by OFD paramedics was not consistently delivered. He stated that concerns were not brought to VCEMS attention prior to seeing the recording of the last City Council Meeting, only after the fact.

It is interesting timing for this request to change EMS services, and add twenty-four FTEs to OFD, just two weeks after passage of Measure E, which adds a projected $45 million in annual revenue to the general fund. Hamilton claims no additional cost to taxpayers with this change, rather an additional $2.7 million in revenue. Proposition 218 Section 6.5 states: No fee or charge may be imposed for general governmental services including, but not limited to, police, fire, ambulance or library services, where the service is available to the public at large in substantially the same manner as it is to property owners. Seems the claim of additional revenue from providing this service may violate CA law. It is a dubious claim of reduced cost to begin with.

Both sides seem dug in, and this may be another case where Oxnard finds itself in litigation again. The City Council is going with their staff, and VCEMS and GCA will stand by their data, and reputations for delivery of quality service to the public. We just hope in the end that when we dial 911 in an emergency, as an Oxnard resident, or visitor, that the better choice was made by the powers that be, and we live to see another day.  

 


Douglas Partello is a homeless advocate, community activist, retired neonatal respiratory therapist, Executive Director, Nicaraguan Children’s Fund.


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C. Collier
C. Collier
6 months ago

The City of Ventura tried this about 20 years ago. They trained several firefighters as paramedics and bought several ambulances. The County made them discontinue the service, claiming that the County and only the County has the authority to regulate ambulance services.

Douglas D Partello
Douglas D Partello
6 months ago
Reply to  C. Collier

This is my understanding, also. This is one of the major points of possible litigation between Oxnard City Hall, and VCEMS (Ventura County EMS System). Oxnard approved at the Dec. 1st City Council Meeting to give VCEMS notice to not renew the JPA contract, which is set to expire 6/30/2021. They must give notice before the end of 2020. Whether they legally can do this tbd.

Tom
Tom
6 months ago
Reply to  C. Collier

In 2019 the City of Ventura had only one position titled as Firefighter, but 21 as Firefighter-Paramedic.

https://publicpay.ca.gov/

C. Collier
C. Collier
6 months ago
Reply to  Tom

That’s because they still function as paramedics (they still have the paramedic sign on the engines).but they can’t transport. They can have paramedics but the county regulates ambulance service.

Tom
Tom
6 months ago

 
”The median salary for Oxnard firefighter is $53K, plus generous benefits and pension.”

The minimum wage for an Oxnard firefighter in 2019 was $64,244.
The median regular pay for an Oxnard firefighter was $73,192. The total median wage was $125,430. Total Retirement And Health Contributions added an additional $18,549.

Douglas D Partello
Douglas D Partello
6 months ago
Reply to  Tom

Thank you Tom for the info. My source was http://www.salary.com.

Michael A.
Michael A.
6 months ago

For real numbers on salary and benefits go to http://www.transparentcalifornia.com There you will see some incredible numbers that will make your head spin. Clearly illustrating the collusion between a political party and unionized public safety personnel All sales tax increases are in response to cities NOT being able to pay their share of pension obligations. Including the recently passed increase in Oxnard that raised the sales tax by a whopping 19.35%. Too bad the voters were snookered by smoke and mirrors.

Last edited 6 months ago by Michael A.