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PLACENTIA : Low-Ranked Firm Gets City Contract

Orange County Focus

February 04, 1994|DANIELLE A. FOUQUETTE

The City Council has awarded a three-year contract for ambulance service to a company that was fined two years ago for double-billing patients and was the lowest-ranked of five companies vying for the contract.

Emergency Ambulance Service paid a $30,000 fine in September, 1992, after investigators for the district attorney's office discovered that the company was collecting money from both patients and their insurance companies for ambulance service.

The company agreed to make about $70,000 in restitution and pay the fine but did not admit to any wrongdoing.

According to Philip Davis, owner of Emergency Ambulance, the double-billing was done by an employee in the billing office and he was not aware of it until notified by authorities.

"There was a problem and when it came to our attention we cleared it up," Davis said. "We changed our procedures so it won't happen again."

On Thursday, City Manager Robert D'Amato said that neither he nor the council, which on Tuesday picked Emergency Ambulance from the field of five, was aware of the company's previous billing problems when the council awarded the contract.

D'Amato said he talked to Davis after a reporter asked about the fine and was satisfied that the problem was a billing-procedure error.

"The company has since installed a computerized billing system and changed some of its policies," D'Amato said.

Even before the past billing problems were discovered, Emergency Ambulance figured to be an also-ran in the competition for the contract. The company's proposal received 898 points out of a possible 1,050, more than 100 points behind the highest-rated company, Southland/Lifefleet.

The companies had been rated by a five-member panel that included representatives of the city, County Fire Department, Sheriff's Department and Emergency Medical Services Agency. After spending eight hours reviewing the proposals, the panel recommended Southland/Lifefleet, which has held the city's contract for 25 years.

Council members ignored the panel's recommendation because they want an ambulance station built in the city and Southland/Lifefleet planned to continue dispatching ambulances from its Anaheim headquarters.

"Psychologically, it makes me feel safer knowing an ambulance would actually be (in the city)," Councilwoman Maria Moreno said.

But instead of choosing the next highest rated bidder, Medix Ambulance Service, which proposed building a station and staffing it with two ambulances, the council chose Emergency Ambulance Service, which agreed to supply one ambulance to the city.

Medix received 996 points, 11 points behind Southland/Lifefleet.

Councilman Michael L. Maertzweiler defended the decision, saying Emergency Ambulance was preferred because the company also serves nearby cities.

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