EDITORIAL: City’s ambulance policy a disaster waiting to happen

The value of having large, private ambulance companies doing business in Southern Nevada was on display after the May 3 Floyd Mayweather-Marcos Maidana fight at the MGM Grand Garden. A loud bang triggered a stampede of fans fearful of gunfire, leaving dozens of people hurt, 60 people treated for injuries and 24 people in various hospitals.

American Medical Response sent 25 ambulances to the hotel, and MedicWest sent several more ambulances, on top of the Clark County Fire Department’s response. Thankfully, police determined there was no gunfire. The noise that started the panic was a partition falling over. But imagine if something far more serious had happened. Imagine if an unthinkable disaster had struck and casualties dwarfed the total from last week’s confusion. It would be all ambulances on deck.

Southern Nevada has received millions of dollars in federal anti-terrorism grants over the years to prepare for such an event. And elected officials, including Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, have pressed for even more federal dollars, given the valley’s international profile. “We are a target,” Mrs. Goodman said in March. “Don’t let us ever forget that.”

Yet the city of Las Vegas took steps, starting in March, to greatly limit patient transports by American Medical Response — steps that could very well force AMR and private-sector ambulances out of the city for good.

At the order of Las Vegas Fire Chief Willie McDonald, his department is handling a greater share of patient transports to bring more revenue into the city’s coffers through reimbursements from insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid. Mr. McDonald also ended the city’s dual-response system for medical emergencies, under which both a Fire Department ambulance and an AMR ambulance responded to calls for help. Now AMR is cut off from automatic notifications of emergency calls and is contacted by the Fire Department on an as-needed basis, which has resulted in delayed responses and forced AMR to reduce staffing at certain hours and in certain areas. The change isn’t good for public safety, and it’s a threat to AMR’s city operations. Why would the company continue paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in franchise fees to a government intent on taking away its business?

Mrs. Goodman says “We are a target,” but the Las Vegas Fire Department doesn’t have enough ambulances to handle a terrorist attack or major catastrophe on its own. What if the city needed all of AMR’s resources to assist those injured in a terrorist attack, but AMR wasn’t available at all?

The city needs to walk back its foolish medical transport money grab. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

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