ELO ambulance plan may only look good on paper

The lack of an available ambulance in the city of East Liverpool forced city police officers to administer CPR and transport a non-responsive woman to the hospital in their cruiser in October. The woman later died and now the city fire chief has proposed a public/private partnership between the city and a local ambulance company to provide a paramedic-staffed ambulance to the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Chief Bill Jones said the proposal wasn’t something he had just come up with in response to this incident and judging from the details he provided, he has apparently given this quite a bit of thought.

At first glance, the plan appears to be beneficial to the city, but it is co-mingling private and public services which usually proves to be a formula for trouble. Private enterprises can almost always provide services more cost effectively and efficiently than government can, and this particular plan would create unfair competition for two ambulance services already located within the city and a third located in adjoining St. Clair Township.

If the partnership is entered, the city’s ambulance would be used for all emergency calls, medical or trauma, received through 911, the city police or fire departments, but city residents would still be free to directly contact their ambulance of choice from among other existing private ambulance firms.

Unlike the private ambulances now operating inside and outside the city, the partnership ambulance would not be available to transport patients between hospitals. It would not leave the city unless it was called to a patient’s residence and the patient wanted to go to a hospital outside the area.

The city would provide space rent-free at the Central Fire Station for the ambulance and crew. The private ambulance company would be responsible for paying all wages and benefits for three newly hired firefighters/EMTs. Jones pointed out that the city would gain three new firefighters/EMTs for minimal cost to taxpayers while adding a paramedic-staffed ambulance in the city.

The owner of one private ambulance company has already said his company would leave the city if this plan is put into force because it wouldn’t be feasible for him to pay $2,000 a month rent to remain there.

As mentioned above, East Liverpool is already served by three ambulance services that have multiple units available at the same time. It was just bad luck that all were tied up at the time when one was needed to assist the woman who suffered a medical episode. Involving the city may do nothing but aggravate the problem by running out of town current companies which cannot compete with the city sanctioned/subsidized ambulance service.

Then there is the question whether a city with the financial problems of East Liverpool can afford to begin offering a new service, especially one already being provided by the private sector. We all know how government programs can take on a life of their own. How long before the city would have to put more and more tax dollars into the ambulance service?

City officials should think long and hard before jumping into this plan. They could be getting in over their heads and creating many future financial problems.