Tuesday, April 19, 2005 • Supervisors choose SEMSA as county ambulance provider

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, April 19, 2005, edition of the Lassen County Times.

Bill Bixby is negotiating a contract to give a Reno-based company an exclusive operating area to provide ambulance services for most of Lassen County.

The county administrative officer got authorization last week from the Board of Supervisors to negotiate the contract with the Sierra Medical Services Alliance, the California branch of REMSA, the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority.

The board authorized Bixby to negotiate for SEMSA’s option B proposal, which physically locates one ambulance each in Westwood, Susanville and Janesville, along with two back-up ambulances in Susanville.

The unanimous vote to negotiate a contract with SEMSA followed almost an hour of public comment and discussion.

Westwood resident Ted Tamborski urged the board to make sure five ambulances are available at all times. Another Westwood resident, Fred Binswanger, urged the board to station an ambulance in Westwood 24-hours a day.

Binswanger gave the board Susanville Interagency Fire Center call volume data showing Westwood had 185 emergency medical calls in 2004, second only to Susanville, which had 719 calls.

Susan River Fire Chief Glen Hodgson told the board the Lassen County Fire Officers Association supported a contract with SEMSA because of its cooperation, professionalism and the outstanding emergency medical care it provides.

Vicki Lozano said if SEMSA does not provide free ambulance stand-by service to youth activities, youth football and rodeo sports activities may be disbanded because they have no money to pay for the service.

Supervisor Bob Pyle said SEMSA President Patrick Smith assured Pyle SEMSA would station an ambulance at sports events at no charge.

Greg Wallace, the director of operations for South Lassen EMS, asked if the company currently serving Westwood and Janesville had exhausted all its administrative remedies in protesting the decision to contract with SEMSA.

County Counsel John Ketelsen said the protest included no factual basis so “there is no protest we recognize.”

Supervisor Jack Hanson reminded the board SEMSA’s proposal recognized it plans must be fluid. He suggested growth in the south county may eventually force SEMSA to consider stationing an ambulance in Milford.

Hanson said the plan must offer the most efficient service to the largest number of people and SEMSA must be “able to adjust ambulance service to the county as things change.”

Pyle agreed in the future the federal prison and new housing in Herlong might make a change necessary.

Chairman Lloyd Keefer agreed changes may come later but said he would not support moving an ambulance out of Janesville.

“Too often these decisions are based on personality rather than the public interest,” said Supervisor Jim Chapman, adding a lawsuit may result from the contract.

Once Bixby negotiates a contract, he will bring it back to the board for approval.

Before the vote, Mountain Lifeflight Owner Dave Reger warned SEMSA plans to drastically reduce local air ambulance coverage and will underserve the ground ambulance needs in an attempt to put Mountain Lifeflight out of business. He said SEMSA would fly everything but skinned knees out of Lassen County and once Mountain Lifeflight is gone, SEMSA would also go out of business.

He said Bixby will be long gone after he retires again. Bixby said he does have a continuing interest in medical service in Lassen County, despite the fact that he is retiring for the second time in early July.

“I live in Lassen County,” Bixby said. “I have property up at Spalding and as soon as they get the sewer system in up there, I’m going to start construction. As a matter of fact, I’ll be moving up to Spalding in the second week of May of this year.”