Care gets OK on bid

Published 9:57 pm Saturday, December 13, 2008

After an hour-long executive session, the Pike County Commission reversed its decision and awarded the ambulance provider contract to Care Ambulance.

When the commission reconvened its meeting at noon on Friday, 12 hours before the new ambulance contract was expected to begin, commissioners voted 4-2 to contract with Haynes Ambulance, a decision that contradicted the vote of the City of Troy earlier this week and the public leanings of the City of Brundidge.

The initial vote went against the recommendations of County Attorney Allen Jones and County Administrator Harry Sanders, who endorsed the current contract holder Care.

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Commissioners Homer Wright, Jimmy Barron, Charlie Harris and Karen Berry initially cast votes for Haynes, while Ray Goodson and Chairman Robin Sullivan voted for Care.

Commissioners who voted for Haynes Ambulance initially said they had received too many complaints about Care. “My constituents have called me about the problems with Care, and I have to base my decision on the people of the county,” Barron said.

The initial vote brought complaints from Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford and others who chastised the county commissioners for waiting so late to make a decision.

With less than 12 hours to change ambulance providers, Lunsford said he was opposed to their initial decision to switch to Haynes, and because of that short timeframe the city would continue to contract with Care for at least 30 days before changing over.

“If you are going to make a change of providers, it should have been made Monday, regardless of if there was a conference you had to go to,” Lunsford said. “I can not accept less than 12 hours of notice.”

Sullivan said the commission originally moved to recess its meeting Monday to allow the Troy and Brundidge councils to make their votes first. Troy endorsed Care while Brundidge deferred a decision, granting Mayor Jimmy Ramage the authority to sign the contract on Friday.

However, the commissioners could not reconvene before Friday because Sanders, Wright and Harris attended an Association of County Commissions of Alabama Conference on the upcoming legislative session.

Sullivan said while the voting did take place last minute, he did not anticipate any problems with choosing Care, like Troy had done. “I just thought (this vote) was going to be a formality,” Sullivan said.

The commissioners entered a nearly hour-long executive session after the initial vote. And, after that meeting, they unanimously overturned their original decision and voted to renew the contract with Care, using a centralized dispatch service – the same decision favored by the Troy City Council.

Lunsford said at the meeting he did not have a personal preference of who was awarded the bid, but he only had authorization from his council to sign a contract for Care Ambulance.

Lunsford said the city based its decision off recommendations from the fire chief, police chief and E911 director as well as on an e-mail from the county attorney saying his recommendation would be Care.

Jones said he shared with the city the assessment based on extensive research but said he in no way guaranteed the commission would vote the same as his recommendation.

Ultimately, a lack of time is what Haynes’ supporters said turned their decision.

“The contract was about to come to an end, and we didn’t want to go into the next day without an ambulance service,” Wright said.

And Barron said he isn’t pleased with the decision, but he felt it was one he had to make.

“I’m not happy, but our back’s pretty much against the wall,” Barron said.

Another reason Care was the more appealing choice was an ensured half-million dollar performance bond for not meeting contract requirements.

“The biggest thing for me was the performance bond,” Sullivan said. “It gives us a guarantee we will have continued service in Pike County.”

Care Operations Manager Mike Sandell said the performance bond would be given to the county if the company didn’t meet its requirements 90 percent of the time.

But, even without the contract, Haynes has still agreed to remain a working ambulance service in Pike County.

“Just because we don’t have the contract, we’re not leaving,” said Haynes Chief Operating Officer Kirk Barrett. “It’s their right to choose.”

Though it isn’t specified in the contract, Jones said 911 calls will be directed to Care, since they are the provider, and they are required to be staffed for all emergency calls.

“The E911 calls have always been dispatched to the ambulance company holding the contract, and that will continue,” Jones said. “There are opinions issued by the Alabama Attorney General authorizing that arrangement.”

Another issue brought up in the meeting was whether Haynes had indeed met all of the bidding requirements, since city officials said some of their financial history was lacking.

Jones said it was not as extensive as Care’s, but it was not an issue in the way the commission voted.

“An argument can be made the information submitted by Haynes complied with this section, but in the end it was not an issue because the bid of Haynes was received, evaluated and analyzed,” Jones said.

Now that the contract has been awarded, both Ramage and Lunsford said they are pleased with the final outcome. “I think it’s resolved correctly, and Care will do a good job,” Ramage said.

“I was proud to see it work out because you can’t make the change in less than 11 hours,” Lunsford said.