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Ambulance competition upests current provider

Lauren Theodore

Now that the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors has agreed to open the bidding process for South Lake Tahoe’s ambulance service provider, Lake Tahoe Ambulance feels its are being treated unfairly and the Lake Valley Fire Department is pleased with its chance to bid.

“Finally we can go forward,” said Lake Valley Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schafer, whose department has wanted this chance for several years.

“All we’ve tried to do is is have the opportunity to present the merits of our system,” he continued.



“It’s the American way,” said Chief Executive Officer of Barton Memorial Hospital, Bill Gordon.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Gordon is optimistic that the community will be better served by a competitive market. Gordon said having more than one organization vying for the position forces competitors to be at their best.



“Our preference would be having a model like Tahoe-Douglas’ service,” Gordon said. Tahoe-Douglas’ ambulance service is provided by its fire department.

“Take the politics out of it and focus on the quality ambulance service to the community,” Gordon said.

LTA Chief Executive Officer Charles Staib told the board Tuesday, that the vote was not based on providing the best service to the community at the the lowest cost.

“It’s based on political agendas,” he said, adding the Lake Valley Fire Department should be more concerned about providing better service.

“They could be providing Advanced Life Support care right now and they are not,” he said.

According to Barton Memorial Hospital, ALS provides a higher level of care. It allows for a crew to go out in the field and administer shock treatment to a person who has experienced a heart attack.

If Lake Valley and South Lake Tahoe fire departments were to jointly receive the bid for the area, “the ambulance never goes out by itself,” said Lake Valley Fire Department Chief John Ceko.

“We go out as a unit.”

As a unit, the department can provide services in field emergencies that LTA cannot provide, such as extricating people from cars and simultaneously removing and treating people caught in structure fires.

Referring to the unique topography of the area, Schafer and Ceko said a variety of ambulance services are needed here that aren’t in a city.

“It’s not an urban setting where you have sick people in houses,” Schafer said.

Ceko and Schafer said besides the lack of certain services, LTA is profit driven.

“What is bad is that there is no incentive to pick up a patient,” Ceko said.

“I don’t really blame them, their contract was written incorrectly.”

Schafer compared the service of LTA to an HMO. “The profit unfortunately comes from not providing the service,” Schafer said.

LTA, under exclusive contract with El Dorado County, does not set the rates for its services, the county does.

As for LTA’s performance record Staib said, “We are audited annually.”

“We’ve never been fined, censured, or asked to correct our services under our contract.”

Ceko says his staff is comprised of employees who have been on the job a long time. “There is no turnover,” Ceko said, who has been on staff since 1972.

The only time positions open “is when someone retires.”

Schafer and Ceko estimate Lake Tahoe Ambulance’s personnel has gone through as many as 60 employees in recent years averaging one year on the staff.

“Every time we’re responding to a call we’re introducing ourselves,” said Schafer.

Staib responded, “Of course we have turnover, any private company does.”

“You don’t look at years on the job as the sole indicator of job performance.”

According to Barton Memorial Hospital, ALS provides a higher level of care. It allows for a crew to go out in the field and administer shock treatment to a person who has experienced a heart attack.


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