Key West Pushing Toward Fire-based EMS

Sept. 03--A city-run ambulance service in Key West is moving forward as city commissioners are expected to approve tonight the purchase of four ambulances for nearly $400,000.

It's part of a plan approved earlier this year to bring emergency medical services in-house rather than continue contracting them out to a private company. To ensure no interruption of service, the commission is also expected to extend its month-to-month contract with the private provider tonight in case more time is needed.

Three new ambulances are not to exceed $387,291. A used ambulance is expected to cost $8,209. The ambulances will be at each of the city's fire stations, on Simonton Street, North Roosevelt Boulevard and Kennedy Drive. The fourth will be housed at a new Angela Street firehouse and will be used as a backup unit and for special events.

City emergency medical services are now provided by a company called Care/American. Commissioners and firefighters are planning for an April 1 deadline to have the Key West Fire Department take over but tonight, Care/American's $45,000 monthly contract is likely to be extended through next June on a month-to-month basis if needed in case the commission-imposed deadline isn't met.

"This is something that's been a long time in the making," said Commissioner Billy Wardlow. "If we can't meet our deadline, we'll have to extend Care/American's contract."

About $2.5 million has been appropriated to transfer EMS services from Care/American to the Fire Department. Outside of ambulances, hiring 15 new emergency medical technicians, a medical director and new billing agent are in the works.

Michael Davila, division chief of operations for the Fire Department, said the new hires will probably come in March, with each trained as a firefighter and EMT.

"We currently have 16 paramedics on staff and we'll have to augment those with additional paramedics," Davila said. "We'll absolutely have a medical director before we take over this service."

Paramedics can administer more drugs and perform procedures beyond what an EMT can. A medical director is needed for paramedics to perform tasks above EMTs.

Care/American, whose contract had expired in March, previously didn't charge the city but expected to profit on directly billing patients for transport and services. That didn't work. Care/American had taken over in 2011 from American Medical Response in 2011. The city paid that company $611,000 annually.

Care/American responds to about 5,000 calls annually, with about 4,000 of them involving transport to a medical facility.

The City Commission meets at 6 p.m. Sept. 3 at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.

Copyright 2014 - Florida Keys Keynoter, (Marathon, Fla.)

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