SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Several former Falck employees are expressing concerns about the city's new ambulance provider, saying the company is falling short in its overall service to San Diego.
At least three former Falck EMTs told Team 10 the company was not prepared when it took over in November—dealing with everything from payroll problems to staffing.
Sean Kellhofer worked for ambulance provider AMR and moved over to Falck when it took over the city’s contract.
“It was deciding to continue with the city. I really enjoyed working in the city,” he said. “It’s the best job in the world.”
He was excited initially and said the new equipment was a plus. “We had these things called autoloaders. You just click a button on the gurney… some hydraulic arms raise the gurney by itself—saves your back quite a bit,” Kellhofer said.
However, he said the honeymoon ended quickly.
“The low morale and getting ran into the ground from calls… we had multiple units throughout the city shut down almost every single day,” Kellhofer said. He left Falck after less than two months in early January and went back to AMR.
Another EMT who switched from AMR to Falck agreed the company was not prepared. Jeremiah Coburn said he ran into issues from the beginning, including a lack of “an adequate amount of supplies” for his ambulance on day one.
Coburn also dealt with payroll problems. “They owe me 96 hours of PTO. They weren’t paying me my appropriate double time… Even the simplest things were getting screwed up. You can’t not pay your people,” he said.
Coburn also returned to AMR.
Another former Falck EMT, who did not want to be identified for privacy concerns, confirmed his full pay was delayed twice.
Jeff Behm, managing director for Falck San Diego, said they are aware that there have been issues with payroll. He said the problems were in part due to a program issue and ransomware attack.
“Everyone’s going to get paid every dollar that they are owed. No one’s going to walk away without having their full paycheck,” Behm said.
Public records also show Falck has consistently fallen below what was promised. Under the new agreement, the company was supposed to have 1,008 unit hours a day. That’s the daily number of hours ambulances are scheduled.
Data provided by the City of San Diego shows from November 27th to February 20th, Falck was below 900 hours for 20 of the 31 days in January.
AMR bid 888 unit hours per day to keep the city’s contract, but ultimately lost to Falck.
“We stumbled a little bit out of the gate,” Behm said. “I’ve been upfront about that with the employees since day one.”
Behm said a big reason for the low hours was the omicron variant, with the workforce out sick with COVID or because of COVID protocols. He also said first responders have left the industry.
“We came into this a little short on staffing and it’s challenging to bring more people in,” Behm said.
Team 10 also received data from the city for what’s referred to as Level 0 days. That means there are no ambulances available. Records show this happened in 1,785 instances in January. Periods of no ambulances could last a few seconds or at times, more than 20 minutes.
Data from the city for the first three weeks of February shows those numbers improving.
When attending public city meetings last year, Falck leadership was confident it would meet its goals and provide better service than AMR.
In April 2021, Falck’s Chief Commercial Officer Troy Hagen said that there would be no issues meeting the proposed hours.
“You are committing to the service hours that you put forth within your response to the RFP (request for proposal), is that correct?” asked Councilmember Chris Cate during the meeting.
“Yes, that is absolutely correct. We’ve gone through this entire process. We’ve built this plan together to build those responses,” Hagen said. “Unequivocally yes.”
In February 2021, then-Falck CEO Matt Gallagher said one of Falck’s “critical path items is to make sure [they] have the staffing level day one to meet the unit hours that [they] promised.”
When asked about the commitment Falck about its service, Behm said he started with Falck only recently.
“I started with Falck on October 4th of 2021, so I wasn’t here for some of the discussion prior to my tenure,” Behm said. “I’m not sure what exactly was said, but certainly it’s been our goal to get where we need to be with staffing.”
Team 10 asked San Diego Fire-Rescue if the department was satisfied with the service Falck was providing.
“I remain optimistic about the contract and the future,” said Deputy Chief of EMS Jodie Pierce.
A San Diego Fire-Rescue bulletin from February 2nd admits “difficulty with [the] emergency medical services transportation system.” It refers to challenges and “instances where company officers have decided to transport a patient on a fire apparatus.”
“The surge caused the system to develop alternatives to our standard of practice. The bulletin was provided to provide guidance to the workforce but was not utilized during the surge,” Pierce said.
She said instances of patients transported on fire apparatus have occurred before the surge. A department spokesperson also clarified that “all of [the] apparatus have a paramedic on board with life-saving equipment.”
Pierce said the final data for Falck’s response times are not in yet. Falck said they are either close to or have met the requirements for priority calls.
“When you’re going through the institution of a contract, the implementation is a process and there are going to be achievements and there are going to be challenges,” Pierce said. “The city will continue to work with Falck and we will continue to uphold the contract and hold Falck accountable.
Kelhoffer said he is speaking about his experiences to raise awareness about the city's new ambulance service. “I think they promised just a little bit too much for what they can handle,” he said.
The Public Safety and Liveable Neighborhoods Committee is scheduled to discuss Falck’s service on Wednesday.