San Jose, Santa Clara City Ambulances Have Lower Utilization Rate Than County Ambulances
San Jose and Santa Clara in 2001 spent more than $1.9 million to acquire 10 ambulances for patients who could not be expediently reached by county ambulances, but the city vehicles have so far transported just 23 patients -- an annual average of about one patient per ambulance, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Officials for San Jose and Santa Clara originally estimated that the ambulances would be used more than 400 times a year. City and county leaders reached an agreement to allow the city to provide ambulance services under some restricted circumstances after the cities unsuccessfully tried to take over all ambulance services in the county in the mid-1990s. American Medical Response provides ambulance services to the county under a contract that requires the company to reach 90% of urgent calls within 12 minutes and allows AMR to charge patients an $839 fee for each transport. The fire chiefs in Santa Clara and San Jose say that AMR "improved its response once the cities got into the business," but the company says it added ambulances just to remain in compliance with the county's contract, the Mercury News reports. AMR maintains between 10 and 32 ambulances, depending on the anticipated demand for service and time of day.
According to the Mercury News, the ambulance initiative was "part of a broader effort by fire departments concerned that declining numbers of fire calls could lead to fewer firefighters." Department officials say the ambulances' costs are justified because of the lives that have been saved and the vehicles' dual use as back-up equipment carriers for truck companies. San Jose Fire Chief Jeff Clet said that using ambulances as a secondary unit, as opposed to other vehicles not equipped to transport patients, costs about $30,000 extra per vehicle.
Clet said the city overestimated the need for the ambulances but added that the agreement with the county, which Clet negotiated, is "too restrictive." He said, "It was a negotiated item because there was a fear on the part of AMR that we were putting these in place to replace them. ... We wanted the ambulances in place to take sick people to the hospital when we needed them." San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales said he is satisfied with the ambulances' use, and he noted they could be needed in the occurrence of a major natural disaster or terrorist attack. Gonzales said, "It's better to have it and not need it than not have it" (Witt, San Jose Mercury News, 6/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.