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Third ambulance service gets OK from Council

Monday, March 5, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Two ambulance companies that currently have franchises to provide nonemergency transfer services within the city of Austin told City Council Thursday that it would be a mistake to grant a franchise to a third company, but failed in their effort.

Council unanimously approved a franchise for Allegiance Mobile Health on first reading after hearing from representatives of Allegiance, as well as the two companies that opposed its franchise, American Medical Response of Texas Inc. and Acadian Ambulance Service.

If Council approves the franchise on second and third reading, which seems likely, Allegiance will join the roster of companies offering services such as transferring patients from one hospital to another, transferring patients from nursing homes to hospitals and vice versa.

Steven Dralle of American Medical Response asked Council to delay or deny the application. He cited information in the agenda backup material that stated that when Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services staff members initially reviewed 250 of Allegiance’s patient care reports, they found 96 reports, or more than 38 percent, that needed additional information. That included rounding up of mileage, incoming calls documented as being received from an incorrect location and medical coding errors.

In addition, Dralle pointed out that the EMS report said that Allegiance’s errors were preventable and that the company lacked a compliance program as required by the Affordable Care Act.

Dan Gillespie of Allegiance told Council that the errors were a result of software problems and that his company had worked with city staff to correct them.

He said Allegiance had studied the market. “We feel strongly, as did the EMS advisory board, that there would be great benefit to adding another ambulance service to the city. This does not cost the taxpayers anything. It simply puts the onus on us to compete successfully – on us and the other two providers.”

Kerri Lang, assistant director of administration and finance in the city’s EMS department, told Council that Allegiance had corrected its software problems and had repaid the minor amounts it had overcharged its customers as a result of those problems. In addition, Lang said Allegiance now has a compliance program as required by federal law.

Even though the Austin-Travis County EMS Advisory Board reviewed and unanimously voted to approve a five-year contract for Allegiance, Council Member Leslie Pool wondered why the city’s Public Safety Commission had not been asked to weigh in on the franchise. The answer was that the EMS advisory board is required to make the recommendation, but no other board or commission has ever been asked for such a recommendation.

Council Member Ora Houston said the city is growing fast and needs an additional ambulance service. Then she put in a plug for a hospital or minor emergency center to locate in East Austin, noting that it would have little competition.

After the hearing, Mike Kelly, lobbyist for American Medical Response, told the Austin Monitor that his client had not been aware that city staff had worked with Allegiance to remedy the shortcomings that were pointed out in the backup documents. In fact, that information was not in the backup. Kelly said most members of Council were not aware of the remedies until they heard about them during the hearing.

Photo by Michael Gil from Toronto, ON, Canada (Toronto Ambulance) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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