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Council rejects first aid services contract

Thursday, February 1, 2018 by Jo Clifton

During Tuesday’s work session, City Council members expressed enough objections to a contract to hire an outside firm to provide medical services at the Austin Convention Center that city staff agreed to remove the item from today’s agenda.

Council members Delia Garza, Leslie Pool, Jimmy Flannigan and Ora Houston each weighed in on the proposed multiterm contract with American Medical Response to provide what would amount to a first aid station during certain conventions at the convention center and the Palmer Events Center. According to the work session agenda, the contract would have been for up to $500,000 for up to five years.

In response to questions from Garza, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Chief Ernie Rodriguez explained that the contract was not for emergency services and that EMS would still be available for any medical emergencies. “It’s a single medic with a single bag and access to (a defibrillator) that’s on the premises,” Rodriguez said.

He added, “So we’re not replacing EMS response to the convention center with a contractor. EMS always responds to the convention center and we do that with the Fire Department when necessary. We try to have excellent response times. We have four ambulances that surround the convention center so we get there fairly quick when there’s an emergency.”

He referred to the agency’s need to make sure that medics do not work so much that it is unhealthy for them. He reminded Council that the agency had struggled to ensure that its employees were not working more than 42 hours a week.

However, in response to questions, Rodriguez said they had had no trouble getting EMS employees to voluntarily sign up for the extra shifts, which generally last from four to six hours. Rodriguez also said that it is not a cost issue for EMS to provide a medic for a convention because EMS bills the convention center and then the convention center bills the convention.

Garza said she would not be able to vote for the contract, noting that the city does not currently have a contract with EMS employees, so taking the overtime shifts offers EMS employees extra income. “This is a city facility, and I think it should be staffed by our paramedics,” she said.

Pool said she would not support the contract either. At some point in the future if there is too great a need for city medics to fill all the positions, she said, maybe the city could look at the contract idea again.

Flannigan said he was opposed to the idea also. After questioning the assistant director of the convention center, Van Jobe, Houston said she too would be opposed to approving the contract. No Council member said they supported the contract, and members of the Purchasing Department, the convention center and Rodriguez went outside to discuss withdrawing the item from today’s agenda, which appears to have happened.

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