Compton ambulance services remain undecided
COMPTON—City Council members approved a temporary contract extension with Smart-Tek Services, after raising concerns about the cost to the general fund.
Smart-Tek is a medical staffing company that provides emergency medical technicians to the Compton Fire Department.
The Council debated and rejected a two-year proposal, and will revisit the issue in September, after reviewing competing companies and the cost if it were to become a city employee job.
Smart-Tek operates two emergency medical technician units that operate within the city, using city-owned vehicles.
“It costs us about $8.50 per hour for transport services,” Deputy Fire Chief Bryan Batiste said. “When we did it in-house it cost the city three times that amount.”
Smart-Tek also serves as a training program for youngsters planning for a fire department career.
“Many of our employees with Smart-Tek come from our Explorer program,” Batiste said. “We lost our academy several years ago because of accreditation problems at the college, and this is a stepping stone for young kids who graduate from high school and become EMTs.”
Liability issues concerned Councilman Willie Jones, who wanted to know whether the city can be held responsible for young adults who operate ambulances.
“Licensed drivers with certificates from the California Department of Motor Vehicles operate the ambulances,” Batiste said. “Everyone is over 18 years old.”
Cornwell said the city insures the vehicles operated by Smart-Tek.
“This is a staffing service that provides EMTs for the city,” Batiste said. “There are only two companies in the area that provide staffing.”
The proposed two-year agreement would cost the city approximately $1.2 million.
“The city needs to get the best available price,” Jones said. “We have a general fund deficit.”
Mayor Eric J. Perrodin said he did not support the proposed two-year agreement.
“This deal encumbers next year’s budget, and we have not resolved the budget for this year,” he said. “I do not know how the city attorney can justify this action.”
Putting interns in city vehicles and providing liability insurance also concerns Perrodin.
“We pay this company almost $600,000 per year, and they drive our vehicles and receive training, while we pay for the vehicle insurance costs,” he said. “That does not seem right to me.”
Cornwell said the agreement does not violate the competitive bidding requirements in the city charter.
“This does not involve supplies, materials, or equipment,” he said. “A two-year agreement does put a burden on next year’s budget and is not a best practice, but it is legal.”
The city receives reimbursement for transport.
“Emergency medical services generate about $900,000 each year for the city,” Batiste said. “We have a medical billing company that receives a portion of the collected revenue, but Smart-Tek gets a flat-rate and nothing more.”
A fully-equipped ambulance costs approximately $100,000.
“When we factor in the cost of billing and insurance, the program makes no money,” Perrodin said. “We have not included the cost of fuel and maintenance, which makes the situation worse.”
Explorer 1 EMS Chief Sulcan Mohamed arrived during the discussion, and told Council members that his company would step in immediately and provide ambulance services at no charge. The group operates a competing service in Compton, and Mohamed saw the debate on television.
“Any private company will step in and provide service for free,” he said. “They will charge Medicare and Medi-Cal, and then wait for payment.”
The group stands ready to help the city through its financial crisis and offer relief for its struggling general fund, Mohamed said.
“The city came to us and asked for medical equipment because it could not pay its bills,” he said. “We live and work and pay taxes here, and we can also provide EMS services.”
Explorer 1 can also be a staffing company, Mohammed said, and allow the city to keep its billing service.
“We can do it for half the cost of Smart-Tek,” he said. “That includes using our own ambulances and insurance.”
The current ambulance service does not have a valid contract, Duffey said, and a short-term agreement would ensure that residents do not face a loss of service.
“We need to bring a fully vetted report so the Council can make the best decision moving forward,” he said.
The Smart-Tek contract expired on June 30.
“I strongly advise against moving forward without an agreement,” he said. “The company can walk away right now and leave the city with reduced emergency services.”
Perrodin said Mohamed has a history with the Compton Fire Department that included a lawsuit, but that should not make a difference.
“There may be some bad blood there, but it ultimately comes down to what is best for the city,” he said.
The next City Council meeting is on Tuesday, Sept. 4.