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County Decision Leaves Ambulance Company Out in Cold

March 23, 1989|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIMAS — A county decision not to award a promised contract to a San Dimas ambulance company has left the firm in a financial bind, saddled taxpayers with extra costs and left city officials wondering what happened.

Medic-1 Ambulance Service was notified last December that it had won a county contract to respond to 911 emergency calls in the city.

As a result, the company bought two ambulances, hired and trained eight employees and spent about $100,000, according to Daniel G. Gold, the company's president.

But the agreement was killed by the county a week before it was to go into effect on Feb. 1, leaving company and city officials mystified.

Contract Withdrawn

The county Department of Health Services withdrew the Medic-1 contract just before it was to be acted upon by county supervisors. Gold said he believes the contract was stopped by Supervisor Pete Schabarum, but Judy Hammond, Schabarum's press deputy, said the matter "never reached his level."

Tom Hibbard, a senior deputy who handles health matters for Schabarum, said that he and other aides to county supervisors raised objections to the San Dimas contract at a health department briefing. He said the objection was not to Medic-1, but to awarding any contract in San Dimas while the county is planning to put cities, including San Dimas, into large zones for ambulance service.

Hibbard said the concern was that other cities would want contracts awarded separately, jeopardizing a plan under which the county has created 11 ambulance zones to serve more than 50 cities. The county is soliciting bids for the zones and is planning to award contracts effective next year. The zone plan is a response to a 1986 court decision that makes the county responsible for emergency ambulance service in cities that do not run their own systems.

Gold said his experience with the county is the worst thing that ever happened to his company.

"If the county's goal was to hurt us," Gold said, "they could not have planned it any better."

Medic-1 recently lost another contract because of a city's dispute with the county.

Claremont had contracted with the company to provide paramedic service for the city. But county fire officials balked at the arrangement, citing the department's policy that fire protection and paramedic service are a package deal--a city cannot receive one without the other. Claremont is served by the county Fire Department.

Although he has exchanged letters with Supervisor Schabarum, San Dimas Mayor Terry L. Dipple said he still does not understand why the county dropped the Medic-1 contract for his city and is retaining another ambulance company at higher cost. "It's a mystery to me," he said.

Crippen Ambulance Service, which has served San Dimas since 1983, will continue to serve the area at least through the end of this year, even though it lost to Medic-1 in the bidding process. Meanwhile, the county is soliciting proposals for ambulance service in a large foothill area from La Canada Flintridge through San Dimas to Claremont, starting in 1990.

Audrey Bahr, chief of the contract program office of the county Department of Health Services, said she can understand why Gold, only 26 years old and one of four stockholders in Medic-1, is disappointed. "He has a nice little company. He's young, eager and wants to do a good job," she said.

$40,000 Performance Bond

But, Bahr said, Gold should have realized that he did not have the contract locked up until it was approved by the County Board of Supervisors, even though the health department told him he had won the contract and asked for and received $40,000 as a performance bond.

Gold estimated that the three-year contract would have produced $800,000 in revenue. He started Medic-1 six years ago with a single ambulance and has built it into a major enterprise with 46 employees and ambulances stationed in Duarte, Claremont, Hacienda Heights, Pomona and San Dimas.

Medic-1 and Crippen were the only ambulance companies that responded when the county asked for bids on the San Dimas area last fall. A panel representing the county health and fire departments and San Dimas reviewed the bids and recommended Medic-1.

Francis J. Dowling, who was director of the health department's office of contracting and management until his recent promotion to deputy director of mental health services, wrote a letter to Gold last Dec. 9 that said Medic-1 had won the contract.

"Effective Feb. 1, at 01 hours, Medic-1 Ambulance Service will be the primary emergency ambulance responder to the City of San Dimas," the letter said.

The county Department of Health Services recommended approval of the Medic-1 contract in a report to the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 19. It was not until Jan. 24, Gold said, that he learned that his contract would not be submitted to the board in time for his company to begin serving San Dimas on Feb. 1.

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