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City Council approves shifting control of ambulance services to San Diego Fire-Rescue

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego City Council voted unanimously to amend its contract with ambulance service provider Falck during Monday’s city council meeting.

San Diego Fire-Rescue will take control of handling the ambulance services under these changes.

Chief Colin Stowell said during the meeting this “will be much more sustainable and an improved system for our city.”

The changes allow the city more flexibility and control over ambulance services within San Diego, and transition to an alliance model.

This comes after Falck had come under fire for long response times, short staffing and failing to meet the minimum standards based on their contract with the city. In November, the city gave Falck until January to turn it around or face changes with their contract with the city.

Falck was the city’s exclusive ambulance provider, but was subcontracting work with Ambulance Medical Response (AMR) to help fill staffing gaps. Under the amendment passed Monday, the city will contract with AMR directly, while Falck is still the primary provider under an alliance model.

“Today’s vote is also expected to allow the city to contract with a second-provider on its own, so Falck will not be subcontracting anymore,” Jeff Lucia said.

Falck will remain the primary contractor, and as of Monday’s vote, the city will be the one handling the subcontracting.

AMR said in a statement to FOX 5 Monday: “AMR looks forward to working with the City to implement necessary changes to the local EMS system to ensure the people of San Diego receive the timely care they deserve.”

This is the second amendment to the contract between the city and Falck. The first amendment to the contract in spring allowed Falck to subcontract with another ambulance company to get more ambulances on the streets and fill in hours, something they were not allowed to do before the amendment.  

This second amendment allows the city to take over billing for people who use the ambulance services in the city of San Diego.

“The reason for that is it takes advantage of a new state law that allows cities to recover a higher level of payment from Medicare and Medical than Falck could provide, or recover on its own,” Falck Communications Director Jeff Lucia said.

“There are more ambulances on the streets in the City of San Diego, more paramedics than there have ever been in history,” added Lucia says this is something San Diegans should feel good about because the nation is still dealing with an ambulance shortage.

Falck’s exclusive contract with the city started in November 2020.

“We did not have enough staff because we were in the middle of a pandemic,” Lucia said. “There’s a national paramedic shortage and it’s the worst national paramedic shortage that the United States has ever experienced.”

Lucia said they have made investments into recruiting that have now paid off and they are fully-staffed in the City of San Diego.

Falck said in July they have had enough hours and could have completed all hourly requirements for July solely from Falck employees. Falck said in May and June they provided about 97% of the required hours, and filled in the gaps with the subcontracted ambulance company.

This will officially be implemented Oct. 1.

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