New ambulance service OK’d

Singing the praises of competition, Henderson City Council members approved a business license on Tuesday that will allow three city employees to launch a new private ambulance service.

But critics of the move insist there was nothing competitive about how the city cleared the way for three of its own by changing its own restrictions on ambulances less than a month ago.

John Wilson, general manager of the valley’s only private ambulance service, said Henderson used to have strict rules that required special accreditation for any ambulance service operating in the city.

“It now appears the city of Henderson wants to make an exception for these city employees,” Wilson said.

City Councilman Steve Kirk said he doesn’t blame Wilson and his employer for being upset. “They don’t want the competition,” he said. “It doesn’t change the fact that there needs to be competition.”

Now, all private ambulance calls in Southern Nevada are handled by American Medical Response and Medic West, both of which are owned by the same parent company.

Henderson Fire Department employees Rob Richardson, Brian Rogers and Dr. Richard Henderson hope to launch their new transport service under the name Community Ambulance within the next three to four months. St. Rose Dominican hospitals will have an ownership stake in the company, which plans to start out with three ambulances in operation and one in reserve, Richardson said.

Community Ambulance will not respond to 911 calls; the Henderson Fire Department will continue to handle almost all of those. The new service will take only nonemergency calls, namely patient transfers among St. Rose’s three hospitals and to facilities such as nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and hospices.

Richardson said AMR and Medic West “do a fine job,” but there are simply too many patient transfer calls for the companies to handle without long wait times.

St. Rose Dominican officials said patients typically wait about 90 minutes under normal conditions and up to four hours on busy days to be transferred from one hospital to another.

“This is really a business decision and a patient satisfaction decision,” said St. Rose Dominican spokesman Andy North.

Henderson Fire Chief Doug Stevens said St. Rose officials have repeatedly asked the city to “get into the nonemergency service” to help ease the backlog of patient transfer calls.

He said his department has never considered it part of its mission to provide what amounts to “basically a taxi service” for patients.

Richardson expects Community Ambulance to handle about 3,000 calls in its first year of operation.

With Tuesday’s unanimous vote, the City Council granted Community Ambulance a provisional business license that will allow the company to transport patients for up to 30 months while it works to obtain accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services.

City ordinance used to require ambulance services to already have that accreditation in hand before they could be licensed, but council members adopted new rules allowing for a provisional license on Jan. 19.

The old ordinance essentially locked out any start-up ambulance services, an unintended consequence Kirk said was brought to the city’s attention by the three employees behind Community Ambulance.

“These guys pointed out the need and pointed out the hole in the system. They pointed it out, and we moved on it,” Kirk said.

But he bristled at the suggestion that this was an inside deal of some kind.

“We don’t do backroom deals. We do things in the light of day,” Kirk said.

Wilson noted that over the past decade two other companies, one local and one from California, were denied business licenses by Henderson because they lacked the required accreditation.

Before changing the rules of the game, Wilson said, city officials should have given more public notice and completed a business impact study to assess what revising the ordinance might do to existing service providers.

AMR and Medic West respond to an average of 440 calls a day across Clark County. The two services employ more than 800 people and operate more than 100 ambulances in the Las Vegas Valley.

Richardson insists he has received no special treatment from the city. When he and his partners decided to apply for a business license, he said, he had to go in on his day off and “take a number just like everyone else.”

“That’s one thing we’re very sensitive about is conflict of interest,” Richardson said.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

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