SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Public records requested by Team 10 show San Diego’s ambulance company, Falck, is improving in response times, but unit hours are still falling short of the contractual obligation with the City of San Diego.
Falck took over San Diego’s contract from AMR in November. Since then, the company has faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for not meeting response time compliance.
“It certainly is a lot of money. There’s no doubt about it,” said Jeff Behm, the managing director of Falck.
For December 2021 and the first three months of 2022, Falck faced more than $450,000 in fines. That’s with roughly $1.9 million in fines waived because of the pandemic.
Since April, there has been a marked improvement. In April, response times hit the mark and met the 90% requirement in all areas of the city for all types of calls.
In May and June, there were still a few areas of deficiencies. Life-threatening emergency response and urgent response fell below the minimum requirement in the southern section of the city in May. In June, life-threatening emergency response compliance also fell short in the coastal, inland and southern regions.
Behm is still confident the residents of San Diego are getting the service they deserve but acknowledged that they “can do better.”
For the period between March to April, Falck was fined $381,000 for falling short in response times.
During that time, data provided by Falck showed it responded to more than 50,000 calls. Behm said the majority of the fines were related to outlier calls, which are calls with extraordinary delays. He said there were 57 outliers, which equated to less than 1% of total calls.
Behm emphasized that wait times at the hospitals are still part of the problem when it comes to response delays. To reach full staffing, he said the company is still looking for roughly 30 paramedics. “It's really challenging and we're doing everything we can to incentivize our employees to work and pick up additional shifts. We're also paying our EMTs to go to paramedic school to be the future of the paramedics in the City of San Diego,” he said.
Unit hours — which are the number of hours ambulances are scheduled for service — are still far below what was promised to the city. Behm said they have increased compared to the first three months, but overall Falck is still below the 1,008 daily hours promised in the contract.
In April, public records show Falck met the requirement seven days that month. The company met the requirement only twice in May and three times in June.
“It's not yet there. We're on our way and we are working to try to reach that goal of 1,008 overall unit hours,” Behm said.
Jodie Pierce, San Diego Fire-Rescue’s Deputy Chief of EMS, said the “progress has been positive” when asked if the department was happy with Falck’s current status.
“In this last quarter, we’ve seen improvement so yes, I remain optimistic,” Pierce said.
For anyone concerned, Pierce gave assurances. “Every fire apparatus has ALS equipment on it meaning life-saving equipment is there and we are prepared,” she said.
San Diego City Councilmember Marni von Wilpert, who sits on the Public Safety Committee, said she “did hope that Falck was going to live up to all of its contractual promises.”
She had sharp criticism for Falck during previous meetings and said she will continue to monitor its progress until it meets the mark in all areas.
“I want our residents to know that we at City Hall are watching them like hawks,” she said.
When asked about what the company foresees happening next quarter, Behm said it is hard to say but believes “there will be an improvement.”