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City’s plan to renew Rural/Metro contract ignores company’s poor response times

The Brown administration is hiding something. The questions are what and from whom. At a minimum it is concealing from American Medical Response the reason that the national company’s bid to provide ambulance service in Buffalo was rejected.

It is also keeping that information from Buffalo residents and anyone in the city who has had to rely on emergency service from Rural/Metro, which has chronically underperformed, and whose contract Brown wants to renew.

Why? Perhaps there’s a reason, but Brown isn’t saying why. The administration hasn’t even explained its choice to AMR, which had a plan, its leaders say, to significantly improve service in Buffalo. There was no public process that would have allowed the companies and, more important, the public to feel comfortable that the city was making an informed and honest choice.

Indeed, the administration’s only public acknowledgment of dissatisfaction with Rural/Metro was the proposed contract’s new requirement for additional appointments to an oversight board and penalties for poor response times. Fine, but the penalty for poor response times shouldn’t be an expanded oversight board but a searching and open-minded look at other providers with an eye toward making a change. Indeed, it should have been Rural/Metro’s task to explain why the city should not have selected a different provider.

If the Brown administration did that, it has done nothing to give AMR or Buffalo residents, many of whom will need an ambulance this year, any formal reason to believe so. It has been secretive and uncommunicative on what is, literally and frequently, a matter of life and death.

So, no. Rural/Metro it is – at least if the Brown administration has its way. There remains the matter of approval by the Common Council, which should be in no rush to provide it. It needs answers, and so do AMR and everyone in the city.

Christopher P. Scanlon, who represents the South District on the Buffalo Common Council, was clear about his dissatisfaction in an Another Voice column in The Buffalo News on April 19. He wrote:

“National standards for ambulance response times are eight minutes for emergency calls, yet numerous documented cases show individuals needing emergency care in the city waiting 13 to 20-plus minutes for a Rural/Metro ambulance to arrive. When an individual’s life is in jeopardy, that type of response time is simply unacceptable.”

In response to what he said was Rural/Metro’s explanation that the problems were caused by a “spike in call volume,” he noted that the appropriate answer to regular spikes is to add staffing.

Before Scanlon and other Common Council members sign off on this contract, they need to get an explanation for why the administration handled this matter so covertly, and why it treated AMR’s application with such disdain. Who else will want to apply to meet city needs if the expectation is to simply to be ignored?

And Scanlon should stick to his guns in insisting that any new contract must require the service to “meet or exceed the national standards for response times” and that inadequate staffing can result in termination of the contract. That would go for AMR, as well, but especially for Rural/Metro.