PALOS VERDES ESTATES — Little more than a week after turning firefighting duties over to Los Angeles County, the City Council faced its first test of the new system.
And it produced a 3-2 vote on a council that is rarely divided on anything.
The issue was whether the city should continue to pay for ambulance transportation to hospitals for patients in life-threatening situations, as it did when city paramedics responded to rescue calls. The County Fire Protection District's paramedics do not transport people to hospitals; patients are transported by private ambulance.
After a lively debate, the divided council approved a 90-day interim contract with Goodhew Ambulance Service Inc. But patients--not the city--will pay for service.
Goodhew's base rate for transportation is $101.75, plus $7 a mile. Charges for such things as oxygen and backboards for spine injuries are additional.
Mayor Ruth Gralow called the decision "a prudent thing to do because we are concerned with cost savings." She said paying for the service will not be a hardship because "there are not many people in our community who do not have insurance coverage." Voting with the mayor were council members James Kinney and Ronald Florance.
Dissenters Barbara Culver and Edward Ritscher argued that Proposition A, the voter-approved tax for police, fire and paramedic services, obligates the city to pay for ambulance transportation when a life is at stake.
"The transport capability was included as part of the proposition," Ritscher said. "That's the way they voted." City paramedics transported about 200 people a year, according to what Ritscher called "guesstimates."
He agreed that most people in Palos Verdes Estates probably have insurance that pays for ambulance service, but he said there may be some senior citizens who do not.
Gralow said the county actually has increased the level of rescue service in the city because two paramedics, not one, respond to every call.
But Culver responded that when service switched to the county, the council promised that there would be no change in delivery of services. "We have paid for transportation since 1980," she said.
City Manager Gordon Siebert had recommended an alternative contract with Goodhew under which the city would be billed for ambulance service and, in turn, would receive a 25% discount. It also required city payment for "dry runs"--when ambulances respond but do not transport anyone.
The city is preparing a bid proposal for permanent ambulance service after expiration of the 90-day Goodhew contract.
Gralow said the proposal may include partial city payment of transportation charges or a provision permitting residents to ask the city for reimbursement based on inability to pay.