Winning bidder: Ambulance commission chooses Southern Paramedic

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Eastern Carroll County Ambulance District Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to award a contract for the provision of emergency ambulance service in the district to Southern Paramedic Service.

Southern, which has been providing emergency ambulance service in the city of Green Forest since June, submitted the low bid of $395,000 a year to provide two 24-hour ambulances in the eastern portion of the county.

Three other providers also bid for the contract — North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, Mercy EMS and Pafford EMS. The commission met separately with representatives of each provider Wednesday afternoon before its regular meeting Wednesday night at the eastern district courthouse in Berryville.

The commission published a request for proposals last month. Providers were invited to submit proposals for three separate options, which were labeled as Options A, B and C.

Option A would include two fully staffed advanced life support ambulances, each staffed by a minimum of one emergency medical technician and one paramedic, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Option B would include two fully staffed advanced life support ambulances 24 hours a day and seven days a week, with a third advanced life support ambulance 12 hours a day and seven days a week, with each of the three ambulances staffed by a minimum of one emergency medical technician and one paramedic.

Option C asked bidders to submit alternative proposals that meet the performance standards and other requirements described in the contract language.

Southern, which is based in Brinkley, submitted a bid of $395,000 for Option A and a bid of $495,000 for Option C.

NARMC submitted a bid of $500,000 for Option A. Mercy submitted bids of $610,4234 for Option A and $795,856 for Option B. Pafford submitted bids of $750,000 for Option A, $950,000 for Option B and $475,000 for Option C.

Commission chairman David Stoppel prepared a PowerPoint presentation summarizing each of the bids. The presentation, which Stoppel initially presented at a meeting Monday night, identified the bidders as “Vendor A” through “Vendor D.” Stoppel said that was done to prevent bias in the selection process. He identified the bidders by name after Southern was selected.

Although commissioner Amy Leivan said there was some “sticker shock” when the bids were opened, the commissioners expressed their appreciation to all of the bidders.

“I’m very pleased with what they have to offer, all the way around,” commissioner JoAnn Griesenauer said.

In addition to the financial bids, all four bidders also were scored on their responses to questions relating to clinical aspects, equipment, dispatching and other factors. Southern received the highest cumulative score on those factors.

In response to a question from the audience at Wednesday’s meeting, Stoppel said a variety of factors could account for the wide disparity in the bids.

“Looking at everyone’s numbers, I didn’t see anybody that was writing in a big profit in any of this,” Stoppel said.

The commission’s next step will be to draft a contract with Southern. The initial agreement will be for a two-year period, with a mutual option to extend the agreement for an additional three years. The commission will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, at the eastern district courthouse in Berryville to begin working on the contract.

Before voting to select Southern as the winning bidder on Wednesday, the commission heard a treasurer’s report from Leivan. Leivan said she had spoken with the county treasurer and collector about revenue from the 2.5-mill tax earmarked to fund the ambulance district. While Leivan said exact figures weren’t yet available from the county, the commission should have about $438,000 to work with after dedicating the required 10 percent to reserves.

“That number could be more or less, depending on the ending revenue,” she said.

Emergency ambulance service in the eastern portion of the county has been provided by Mercy and Southern, with assistance from Eureka Springs Fire & EMS, NARMC and services from neighboring counties as needed since May 30, when Ozark EMS officially withdrew as the exclusive provider in eastern Carroll County.

Before Southern was selected as the winning bidder, the commission asked representatives of both Mercy and Southern if they would continue to serve until the service selected by the commission was in place. The commission had said it expected the winning bidder to have service in place within 60 to 90 days of a contract being signed, but at least one bidder suggested it might take as long as 180 days.

“We’ll continue to serve the community until there’s a permanent provider in place,” said Bob Patterson, executive director of emergency medical services for the Mercy system.

“If it’s six months, no,” said Allen (Bubba) Usrey, Southern’s director of operations. “If you’re an ambulance service and you can’t get up and running within 30 days, it’s a problem.”

After some discussion, Stoppel asked the commission for a motion to award the contract. Commissioner Rick Wheatley moved to award the contract to Southern, which at that point was still identified as “Vendor D.” Commissioner Wendell Coatney seconded the motion.

“Vendor D is the one I think we have to choose because of the cost,” Leivan said. “… It has to do with what they’re able to provide, too. But at this time, we’re not able with what we have to pay the higher numbers.”

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