Dover’s ambulance services contract hits an obstacle

DOVER — It appeared as if Gem Ambulance was all set to receive a recommendation to become Dover’s new ambulance provider during the City Council of the Whole Meeting at City Hall on Aug. 28.

However, that was before Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen — also a lifelong first responder — spoke out and wondered if the Request for Proposal (RFP) sent out by the city was thorough enough in its evaluation of proposals for Dover’s ambulance services contract.

While Cheswold-based GEM Ambulance came in well below three other bidders — including a $700,800 three-year bid that was made by current city ambulance provider Prime Care — with a bid of $472,875 for three years, Mayor Christiansen questioned some language in the RFP that was sent out to interested companies.

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen

“I’m always worried about the training levels of the people who are going to be performing and EMSing in the city of Dover,” Mayor Christiansen said. “I would hope that the highest level that they can attain is going to be attained.

“In the contract, was there a requirement there for two EMTs to be on board these rigs? I’d feel more comfortable if there were two EMTs on board.”

Kent County Emergency Services Director Colin Faulkner said he believed that state law requires one fully licensed EMT, one rescue tech and one driver — who doesn’t have to be a full EMT — on an ambulance run.

When the mayor was told by Mr. Faulkner that the RFP — on which companies base their cost estimates — that was sent out to the four ambulance companies advertised that only one EMT was required to be on board, things began to unravel.

“No disrespect to the people who put this RFP together, but that’s not the level of service that I’d like to see,” Mayor Christiansen said.

That led to discussion among the members of the city’s Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee and, eventually, the suggestion by City Council President Tim Slavin that the ambulance services contract, “Move to council with no recommendation and putting it on council floor on (Monday) Sept. 10 and having discussion.”

Mr. Slavin said that would give the city more time to consider all the issues surrounding the ambulance services RFP. The motion carried.

Lots to look at before decision

City Manager Donna Mitchell said last week that the issue opened an unexpected can of worms and said she would be looking into the issues in advance of the Monday, Sept. 10 council meeting.

“It would change the RFP because we advertised it for one EMT,” she said. “I have to check with our purchaser and see what they do from here.

“I think we’ll have to allow them all to provide new pricing for two EMTs in order to not get a legal challenge.”

Roy Sudler Jr.

Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. voted against moving the ambulance matter to the upcoming city council meeting, saying he would prefer to defer the matter to the next Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee meeting for further study.

“When it comes to public safety and healthcare matters I think it would be in the best interest of the constituents of Dover to encourage city council to conduct a special city council meeting to address the constituents’ concerns in a transparent atmosphere,” Councilman Sudler said.

“I have come to recognize within my tenure of public service for the city of Dover that the lowest bid proposal doesn’t necessarily mean high quality outcomes. Furthermore, nor does it mean it’s the right bid proposal for the citizens of Dover.”

Councilmen Fred Neil and Matt Lindell brought up budget and possible legal concerns when it comes to making any kind of change to the RFP that has been submitted by the ambulance companies.

Councilman Brian Lewis said he also was left with concerns.

“Some of my concerns as chairman of the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee were when looking at the current evaluation of proposals for ambulance services included response time to the scene of a medical emergency, amount of actual EMT’s on duty within a 24-hour shift and location and storage of emergency vehicles and apparatus,” he said.

“I am one for fiscal responsibility, but you can’t always put a price tag on safety. In my opinion the current Evaluation of Proposals for Ambulance Services had no enhancements, which I found displeasing.”

Gem the frontrunner

Gem Ambulance’s proposal to take over the city of Dover’s ambulance services appeared to be solid in meeting the RFP guidelines as written.

The company said it is prepared to have one ambulance on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and another available 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

Gem Ambulance will have to secure a location in Dover and “is willing to find a location that is agreeable to the city.”

While current ambulance provider Prime Care — which was the second choice — did receive a total score of 841, the best among the proposals, Gem Ambulance wasn’t far behind — at 806.

However, the Gem Ambulance bid was much lower and Mrs. Mitchell said the company’s references were glowing when it came to its services.

Mrs. Mitchell said the original RFP that was sent out was rewritten and went from one-and-a-half pages to 17 pages for the RFP to cover more details.

The RFP was expanded with a higher level of report metrics than is currently used, including a financial audit, employee certifications and training information, hiring and employment procedures, discrimination, diversity, EOC and sexual harassment policies, ambulance and equipment certifications, ambulance and equipment maintenance, reporting requirements with state agencies for operations, vehicles and patient-care matters.

Mrs. Mitchell said after the committee reviewed all the information it recommended Gem Ambulance.

“The committee’s recommendation is GEM Ambulance, and we would have to negotiate a successful contract for GEM Ambulance and we would also have to negotiate an extension of the contract for Prime Care (for transition period), if council decides that they agree with the committee’s recommendation of GEM Ambulance,” she said.

After raising issues of staffing aboard ambulances, Mayor Christiansen said, “Well, as usual, I have probably thrown a monkey wrench into this kind of unintentionally in the effort to make sure that we have the Cadillac of services.”

“I was looking for the highest level of service in that RFP and based on information that I thought was in that study that we spent a lot of money for.

“I think it’s council’s prerogative to follow through on a maintenance of standards being that the RFP has been put out as it was put out and we just come back next time and we put out another RFP and, hopefully, we’ll get in that RFP what we want.”

 

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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