Amid efforts to find an exclusive provider of ambulance services in Ouachita Parish, the city of Monroe has reserved the right to operate its own emergency medical transport service.
Though Monroe officials initially dodged inquiries on the matter, they later acknowledged a city-operated ambulance service was a possibility.
It is unclear how the city would pay for such a service or whether new fees would be charged to city taxpayers in light of the city’s ongoing financial troubles. The city expects to conclude the current fiscal year with a some $2-million deficit.
In 2014, the Ouachita Council of Governments, or OCOG, agreed to award American Medical Response, or AMR, with a four-year extension of its contract as the parish’s sole provider of ambulance services. OCOG is made up of elected officials from Monroe, West Monroe and the Ouachita Parish Police Jury.
In light of the contract’s upcoming expiration, OCOG plans to advertise a request for proposals, or RFP, from ambulance service providers operating in the state. Proposals from private ambulance companies are scheduled to be reviewed on June 4.
When OCOG advertised a similar RFP in 2006, OCOG’s negotiations with ambulance services providers as well as the competition between ambulance companies sparked three years of contentious disputes, some of which went to court. Since then, OCOG members have referred to the experience as distressing.
At OCOG’s April 23 meeting, the council was unable to form a quorum, though the proposed sole provider contract included a new provision: Monroe had reserved the right to launch a municipal emergency transport service.
During an interview with The Ouachita Citizen on Tuesday, OCOG’s director confirmed the city had asked for the provision to be included in the new contract.
“Yes, they did that,” said David Creed, with OCOG. “Whether they decide to start one is another question.”
When asked whether the city had previously reserved the right to operate emergency medical services, Creed said, “No, not to my knowledge. They haven’t done that before.”
Earlier this month, The Ouachita Citizen asked Monroe Fire Chief Terry Williams to elaborate on the city’s plans. Referring to a city-operated ambulance service, Williams said he was “not exactly sure where it would be housed.” He declined to answer any further questions and directed the newspaper to Mayor Jamie Mayo’s office.
The Ouachita Citizen submitted written questions to Williams and Mayo through Mayo’s press relations officer, Rod Washington.
Among other questions submitted to Williams and Mayo, The Ouachita Citizen inquired about the estimated cost of providing an emergency medical transport service. The contract to be negotiated between OCOG and a private ambulance company would require the selected company to provide both emergency and non-emergency medical transport services throughout the parish.
Under OCOG’s current contract with AMR, parish taxpayers benefit from free emergency medical transport services because AMR is able to offset the costs of providing emergency medical transport services (like a gunshot wound to an uninsured citizen) through providing non-emergency medical transport services. If the city operates an emergency medical service, it would likely have to pass the costs on to city taxpayers.
On May 16, Washington provided the newspaper with a prepared statement from Williams.
“Any decision about the City of Monroe entering the emergency response/emergency transport service would be at the recommendation of Mayor Mayo and with the voted approval of the Monroe City Council,” Williams said. “I am not aware of any complaints from the public about the level of service provided by ambulance service providers.”
Mayo, on the other hand, refused to answer any of the newspaper’s inquiries.
During a public event last week, The Ouachita Citizen spoke to Mayo about the matter and addressed its questions to him a second time.
“Right now, we haven’t discussed anything other than OCOG putting out the RFP,” Mayo said.
When The Ouachita Citizen pointed out the city’s decision to reserve the right to launch its own ambulance service, Mayo appeared taken aback and said, “We’ll just see what happens.”
“I’m sure a determination will be made one way or another,” Mayo said.
The Ouachita Citizen reached out to Monroe City Council members to inquire whether they had been included in discussions of a possible city-operated ambulance service.
“If they are, they haven’t told me,” said City Councilman Michael Echols.
City Council Chairman Gretchen Ezernack and City Councilman Kenny Wilson did not respond to the newspaper’s inquiries.