Residents and visitors to Laguna Beach who require ambulance services should be able to expect shorter wait times and a more consistent level of care, fire department officials said.
From July, the department is expected to start full-time staffing two city-operated ambulances after the city council recently agreed to waive contracting for ambulance services. A third ambulance would also be available for emergency assistance.
The Doctors Ambulance Service – which according to the contract permanently assigns one ambulance to the city and has a second stationed at Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach if the main ambulance is in use – has served the city since 1997 Laguna Beach fire and paramedics respond to medical calls, signaling when an ambulance is needed. For more critical cases, they can go on board to go to the hospital.
Going forward, the two city-operated ambulances will have 12 full-time and six part-time crew members and an ambulance coordinator. One will be stationed at Fire Station 1 in the city center and the second will be located in South Laguna at Fire Station 4.
The estimated cost is around $ 1.8 million per year, but city officials expect revenues to cover that cost as patients pay through private insurance, Medicare or Medi-Cal.
The base rate for ambulance service will drop from $ 965 to $ 2,800, but city officials have said there will be no increased costs for Medicare and Medi-Cal patients, although that this may have an impact on co-payments via private insurance. Federal funding would help cover patients without insurance. In comparison, the base rate for ambulances in Newport Beach is $ 1,721.
“I think it’s fantastic, we only had one (dedicated ambulance),” said Councilor Bob Whalen of the decision to bring services in-house. “I think the quality of service will be significantly improved.
The pressure to sue city-operated ambulances and move away from contracted services comes after complaints from local firefighters and patients who suffered excessive wait times of up to 45 minutes, the fire chief said. Laguna Beach, Mike Garcia. He said adding a second full-time ambulance would help address this issue.
In 2015, city authorities commissioned a consultant to review contracted ambulance services. Recently, a committee made up of firefighters and city employees reviewed this original data and came up with three proposals, recommending that council choose one where the city operates its own ambulances.
The contract with the doctors ends on June 30.
In October, medics submitted a proposal to the city to maintain the current level of service, providing a second ambulance when needed, as is currently the case, according to staff reports. In return, Doctors offered to take charge of patient billing and receive an annual municipal grant of $ 42,000.
If the city wanted a second dedicated ambulance, it would have dramatically increased the subsidy that doctors were seeking to continue providing services. Representatives of the doctors could not immediately be reached for comment.
Data from the fire department shows there have been as many as 400 cases where the city needed a second ambulance in 2021. As of July, Garcia said there have been at least 40 cases over time. wait longer than 25 minutes when a second ambulance had to be called from outside. from the city.
Long wait times can harm the patient, monopolize public safety resources and impact the public, he warned.
The debate now is whether the new ambulances, which are expected to cost the city no more than $ 80,000 a year to rent, will be staffed with junior ambulances or fire department paramedics.
Whalen requested that an analysis of ambulance personnel be performed. The city council will take this information into account when it comes back to the subject at the end of January.
In Newport Beach, two full-time firefighters and paramedics are manning three ambulances. Cities in Orange County use different models.
City manager Shohreh Dupuis guessed that paramedic staffing could double the cost. City Councilor George Weiss asked if a hybrid system could be considered, in which the ambulance would be staffed with a paramedic firefighter and a civilian operator.
Garcia said he was open to different options.
He said civilian ambulance operators are typically people who use the job as a stepping stone to becoming a firefighter or getting into law enforcement and are fluid, which means there is high turnover. Paramedics, however, he said, are highly trained and have all the tools available in a hospital emergency room.
“If we were to have a heart attack, all actions performed in the living room would be the same as those performed in the emergency room,” he said.
Right now, if he’s a critical patient, the firefighter jumps into the back of the ambulance to accompany the patient, Garcia said. But, it also requires the paramedic’s fire truck to follow and, in some cases where patients might need specialist help, leave town and possibly sit outside a hospital for a while. extended period.
In 2020, the Laguna Beach Fire Department responded to 2,344 emergency calls, where nearly 1,500 people needed ambulances to reach area hospitals. That’s about four patients a day, Garcia said.