ELYRIA — The first tangible proof the city plans to follow through with its proposal to scale back the first-responder program was unveiled Monday night as Mayor Holly Brinda presented to City Council a draft copy of a contract that could find its way to LifeCare Ambulance Inc.
The 11-page document, which as of the meeting had not been seen by LifeCare President Pete de la Porte, outlines the future relationship the city aims to have with the private ambulance provider that has been working in the city for more than 27 years. It was 17 years ago when the city and LifeCare last entered into a legal agreement for services, but since then the contract has not been touched.
The new draft contract is designed to bring the partnership into the 21st century with terms that reflect both changes in law and advances in technology, said Mayor Holly Brinda. The most significant caveat will be the designation of LifeCare as the primary provider of emergency medical services and the Elyria Fire Department taking on a reduced role as first responders.
“The steps we are suggesting in the contract are designed to reduce expenditures by requiring (LifeCare) to run the majority of EMS calls within the acceptable timeframe of national standards without city back-up,” she said. “The city will maintain EMS call runs on the most critical calls … If these steps are taken, we believe we can save up to half of the current rate of expenditure.”
A need to update the contract was forced by the outdated nature of the last contract, but the city also was driven by unavoidable financial restraints. The Fire Department is heavily supplemented by a federal grant that pays the salaries of 23 firefighters and without the prospect of new revenue the only way to maintain staffing levels once the grant expires in late 2014 or early 2015 will be to reduce expenditures.
An early idea to look at having the Fire Department possibly expand its first-responder program to full medical transportation — reaping the financial benefits of billing insurance companies — was almost immediately shot down by Council, which backed the drafting of a new contract with LifeCare as the most prudent option for the city. The document presented Monday is the first council has seen since setting the administration down that path.
Yet, before Council could dive into the minutia of the contract, Councilwoman Donna Mitchell, D-6th Ward, took issue with the mayor presenting it without giving LifeCare any advanced knowledge.
“LifeCare should see it first to know what we are discussing before it’s put into the paper,” she said. “I understand this is just a draft, but they are our partners in this process and should be at the table for any discussions.”
However, the unique nature of Council being asked to be completely involved in the process took away that option, Brinda said.
“The intent behind sharing the draft contract language with Council before we begin negotiations with LifeCare is to allow you to weigh in and build consensus within the city for the fundamental contract elements,” she said.
Attorney Kenneth Stumphauzer, who serves as Brinda’s administrative counsel, said for too many years the responsibility lines between the Elyria Fire Department and LifeCare have been blurred. But the document he proposed will end the confusion. He urged Council members to read over it carefully and get back to him with any questions so he could change it, if needed, and be ready to present it to LifeCare as the city’s official proposal in the coming weeks.
“It is our goal to get this done as quickly as possible and put it behind us,” he said.
De la Porte, who recently lost his father, the late Charles “Arnie” de la Porte, could not attend Monday’s meeting because he said he was putting together last-minute details for a memorial to be held today in Cleveland in his father’s honor. David Richards, LifeCare’s chief financial officer, attended in his place and said after the meeting that the information he heard about the proposed contract was very encouraging.
“I’m encouraged by the verbiage that is being used and how the contract still looks to us as valued partners in the city,” he said. “If Pete or Herb (de la Porte) could be here tonight, I’m confident they would say LifeCare is more than capable of being the primary first responder in the city because we have done it before. When Elyria was facing hard times before and said they could not afford the first responder program, we were there and handled those duties well.”
Richards further said its ability to operate as primary first responders is evident in Lorain, where it has had that role for more than a decade.
“We work well with the Lorain Fire Department on the calls they do go on and it’s very clear what calls they will not,” he said.
Bruce Shade, the city’s assistant safety service director in charge of public safety, said a similar model will be used in Elyria once the contract is formalized. Lorain County 911 will have a very specific list of medical emergencies to use as a guide as to when to call the Elyria Fire Department.
“They will use the information we get from the caller to make that decision, with the goal being to use our first-responder program in the most effective and efficient way possible,” he said.
Utilizing such a system could see Elyria’s call volume drop by 800 to as many as 1,300 calls per year with a savings — using a system that takes into account wear and tear on vehicles, supplies and equipment — of roughly $112,000 a year.
The terms of the draft contract further hold LifeCare to response times set by the National Fire Protection Agency of arriving on scene 90 percent of the time within eight minutes after receiving 911 calls and shifts the main oversight of the contract’s compliance to the Joint Quality Assurance Board, which is made up of representatives from the city, LifeCare and EMH Healthcare or its successor. That organization is currently in talks to merge with University Hospitals of Cleveland.
Shade said preliminary data shows LifeCare should be able to achieve the response times set by the national standard even though in July and August it reached that benchmark
85 percent and 84 percent, respectively. With some tweaking to the LifeCare system, response times were 94 percent in September and 95 percent in October.
“This contract will place more of the public trust on LifeCare, but I am confident they will carry out that role appropriately,” Shade said.