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San Diego fire chief plans for changes with ambulance provider Falck

Falck faces roughly $900,000 in penalties for the latest quarter, according to a spokesperson.
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Posted at 7:39 PM, Dec 13, 2022

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Stowell said he feels “frustration and disappointment” when it comes to failures of Falck in its contract with the city.

The ambulance provider took over from AMR November 2021.

There were promises of better service by Falck in public meetings before the company took over the contract.

"We've gone through this entire process. We built this plan together to commit those resources,” said Troy Hagen, Falck’s Chief Commercial Officer.

"One of our critical path items is to make sure we have the staffing, day one,” said former Falck CEO Matt Gallagher.

In multiple interviews with Team 10, San Diego Fire-Rescue personnel said they remained optimistic about the contract.

As we pass the one-year mark since Falck took over, the tone has changed in the fire department.

I'm not optimistic that in the near future they're going to be able to have the number of paramedics and EMTs in the workforce to be able to staff the amount of hours that are in alignment with the contract,” Stowell said.

Falck is contractually required to provide 1,008 unit hours per day. That is the number of hours ambulances are scheduled. Public records showed that in the third quarter—July through September—Falck only met unit hours requirements 10 days in those three months.

Specifically, the contract also requires 900 paramedic hours. Falck has yet to meet that requirement.

“For me to have to continue to go back to council and say they're not living up to their promise also has my name next to that,” Stowell said. I do take that very seriously.”

Stowell acknowledged the challenges of the pandemic, which is something Falck's managing director told Team 10 in September was a huge factor.

“I don't think anyone really could have anticipated the number of paramedics and EMTs that would leave the workforce nationally,” Falck’s managing director Jeff Behm told Team 10 in September.

Behm has said hospital delays have affected response times, but the chief said excuses are getting old.

"Our patience has worn out now,” Stowell said. “We have given a lot of time for them to make the improvements.”

Falck’s contract with the city is five years.

The company has already paid hundreds of thousands in fines from the city. A fire spokesperson told Team 10 the company now faces roughly $900,000 in fines for this latest quarter. Those penalties are related to poor response times.

Stowell is hoping for change in the next few months. In January, he wants to propose recommendations and amendment to the contract. Stowell then hopes to get approval to take those changes to the city council in February. Part of that process is negotiations with Falck.

Stowell said a possibility is bringing in a second ambulance provider to help with Falck’s service. He confirmed he wants the city’s fire department to be in charge of ambulance services.

“The fire department is going to be overseeing the system and potentially take over as the provider, which will allow us to monitor the revenue [and] to do the billing collections on that side,” Stowell said. “We will be in control of how many hours are need in the streets.”

When asked if there are plans to bring ambulance services all in-house instead of contracting with another company, Stowell said that could be a possibility down the line.

Falck is trying to attract new employees and recently announced a $50,000 signing bonus for new paramedics. That amount would be paid out over three years. A company spokesperson said it’s “one of the largest bonuses out there.”

Falck spokesperson Jeff Lucia told Team 10 the new bonus offers demonstrate they are "serious about hiring more paramedics in the City of San Diego."

Stowell said they are still responding to all the emergencies and that the residents of San Diego should not be worried about services being offered “on a regular basis.” However, there are questions about the future of Falck with the city.

“What we should be concerned about is we're not seeing the promises made in these contract and the enhancements of what we wanted in this system that we envisioned a year ago,” Stowell said.