Emergency patient plan withdrawn

A controversial North Las Vegas Fire Department proposal to take over the transportation of more emergency patients to hospitals in an effort to save jobs has been put on hold.

The proposal to assume transportation of the city's most sick and injured and all traffic accident patients would have earned enough revenue to save the jobs of up to 16 firefighters who might otherwise be laid off because of the city's budget troubles, the department said in February.

But after critics -- including officials with MedicWest, the private ambulance service responsible for such transportation -- complained that the change would cost private-sector jobs, the City Council voted to withdraw the proposal to give the city and MedicWest time to work out a compromise.

Councilman Richard Cherchio said the issue, which drew hundreds of Medic-West employees and firefighters to a Feb. 17 special meeting, probably won't be reconsidered.

"We're not looking to bridge a budget gap on the backs of private business," Cherchio said Thursday. "We don't see the need to change something that's been working very well in the past."

Chief Al Gillespie said in February that taking over more emergency transportation services would net the city about $1.6 million a year. The Fire Department would bill insurance companies for the service.

The cost of implementing such a change would be minimal, Gillespie argued, because the department already responds to 911 calls. It simply would stop handing so many patients off to someone else, he said.

But Cherchio said he thought the department had underestimated potential costs.

"The numbers just do not jive," he said.

Gillespie this week referred questions about the matter to the city.

"Internally there are people still evaluating the issue," said Juliet Casey, North Las Vegas spokeswoman. "But right now it's not scheduled to come back on any agenda."

John Wilson, local general manager for MedicWest, was satisfied that the city's emergency transportation services would remain as they are for the foreseeable future.

"We have a franchise agreement in good standing, and we'd like to keep it that way," he said.

That agreement runs through 2015.

MedicWest would have had to lay off at least a dozen workers if the change had been implemented, Wilson said.

North Las Vegas, which has undergone five rounds of budget cuts since December 2008, must trim an additional $33.4 million to make it through fiscal year 2011.

The city said it might have to cut up to 273 positions, 21 of them from the Fire Department.

Contact Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.