Updated June 6, 2023 - 4:53 pm
The largest private ambulance companies contracted by Clark County have continued to be late to top priority 911 calls despite losing a large percentage of coverage territory to another company.
“The more action we’ve taken, it appears like the worse they’ve performed,” said Commissioner Michael Naft.
Naft was referring to AMR and MedicWest, both owned by the same Colorado-based Global Medical Response, which failed to meet on-time county benchmarks each month the first four months of 2023.
To be considered compliant, ambulances from each company have to respond to 90 percent of priority calls in less than 12 minutes on a monthly average.
The Clark County Fire Department takes over hospital transports when the conditions are not met, although it’s costly because it strips resources from their day-to-day work, Naft said.
Clark County has redrawn its coverage maps twice, giving Community Ambulance 52 percent of all county calls, up from 15 percent before the process began in early 2022.
The last map amendment took effect in January, giving Community Ambulance coverage of the Las Vegas Strip.
In April, for example, a zone covered by AMR saw ambulances arrive on time to 70.53 percent of the calls, according to county figures.
“I wouldn’t be satisfied if the people who clean our community centers were performing at this level, let alone the people who are responsible for saving the lives of both our visitors and our residents,” Naft said in an interview.
In two weeks, commissioners are expected to discuss its contracts with AMR and MedicWest. Naft requested the Clark County Fire Department — which oversees ambulance operations — legal counsel and senior staff to prepare a “performance improvement plan.”
The plan “would set pretty strong criteria that could also potentially expand or look to redistribute the call volume once again,” he said. “It’s really incumbent on on my colleagues and I to make sure that everybody in the community has adequate response times.”
AMR and MedicWest also have contracts with the city of Las Vegas, and the latter is the sole operator in North Las Vegas. Community Ambulance provides nonemergency services to the city of Henderson. In February, the North Las Vegas City Council voted for its fire department to absorb 911 dispatch duties from the ambulance company.
Michael Johnson, regional director for AMR and MedicWest, previously noted that the ambulance industry has been in a nationwide hiring crisis since the onset of the pandemic. He’s argued that the Fire Department recruits from his ranks, worsening the issue.
Johnson did not immediately return a call seeking comment for this story.
“You might throw them a little bit of slack thinking that ‘okay, there’s a national hiring crisis, particularly in this field, nationally’” but Community Ambulance has exceeded its requirements, Naft said.
AMR and MedicWest have accrued fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for tardy responses.
The fines add up, Naft said. “But it would appear to me that since we’ve been dealing with this for 14 months now, that they see that (fines) as a cost of doing business.”
“It just boggles my mind that something so serious takes this long to correct,” Naft added. “I know it’s a challenge, but really at the end of the day, this is about as important as it gets for this body: 911 service, particularly those priority one calls.”