Thursday, January 20, 2011

Life-Savers and Golfburgers

I need to join the chorus of local bloggers who are featuring and/or praising the reporting of the Daily Sentinel's Amy Hamilton in yesterday's paper. Her front page story on the City of Grand Junction's procurement process as it pertains to the contract for food and beverage services at the City's two golf courses was comprehensive, organized, and easy to follow. The online version of the story included documents that Ms. Hamilton obtained from the City using the Colorado Open Records Act.

The Sentinel made a more effective than usual use of it's web presence by providing this information outside of their subscription paywall. Unfortunately, I was scratching my head on Tuesday as to why a story by Ms. Hamilton about the upcoming City ambulance service contract sat behind the paywall.

In this story, the controversy about the golf course food contract was referenced as perhaps having something to do with Council's decision to put the ambulance contract out for bid. A reference was also made to what was described as a "close and contentious" 4-3 vote by the Council in 2006, awarding the contact to the Grand Junction Fire Department. This contract also gets an occasional mention from some conservative citizens and pundits who see it as an example of a government takeover of a service that can be provided by the private sector.

At this point, I'm going to stop referring to the upcoming contract as an "ambulance service" contract and call it what it is - a contract for the provision of Emergency Medical Services (EMS). As such, I can only offer these thoughts:
  • I believe that EMS is a full part of the community public safety system.

  • I hope that the controversy over who flips burgers for golfers will not negatively affect the City's process in selecting who will provide Emergency Medical Services for the next 5 years. These services have been competently provided by the Fire Department, and their provision should remain with them.
  • I believe that the provision of EMS resides at an equal level with the provision of Police and Fire services. As such, all of these services must be provided in a way that is unencumbered by anything that impedes excellent service delivery and public accountability. In my opinion, these benchmarks transcend and exclude any profit motive.
  • The same principles used to decide who will flip burgers for golfers cannot be used to decide who will be saving the lives of those golfers that clutch their chests and drop on the 14th fairway. The latter bears no relationship to the former in terms of overall importance to the community at large.
Although I oppose the bid process for the provision of EMS, I'm looking forward to seeing the same kind of coverage from the Sentinel regarding the process that it devoted to investigating the golf course burger-flipping contract.

Full Disclosure: While I was a City employee, I participated in the development of specifications for equipment that were used to establish a sole source justification for purchase outside of a competitive bidding process. I believe that there are instances where this remains an appropriate activity, though in an age of increased emphasis on non-proprietary technologies and IP-based connectivity this need may be diminishing.

When I lived in Pittsburgh, I actively opposed efforts by municipal EMS agencies to have their respective municipalities designate them as essentially their "sole source" EMS provider. This would allow the designated agency to exercise control over non-emergency transportation in these areas, which was also pursued by numerous private ambulance services. Mesa County has roughly 10% of the population of the Pittsburgh area - the numbers for a strictly non-emergency ambulance don't stack up here like they did there.

It's indeed a fine line between providing comprehensive medical transportation services and unfairly restricting competition. That line has yet to be crossed in Grand Junction, and likely won't be for the foreseeable future. I hope that Council sees fit to continue the role of the Grand Junction Fire Department in providing these essential services.

Have a good week ahead.

1 comment:

Gene Kinsey said...

John-

The principle involved here is honesty. Not whether EMS is more important than food service. It is not just about private vs public.

The city owns the golf courses. It would be within the power of the city council to simply announce the end of a contract and a change of direction to a city operation. It didn't do this. Rather, the manager and her department directors concocted a scheme to pretend a winning bid.

The question is: is the city staff and city manager honest? So far the evidence is not leading to a good conclusion.

If these people cannot be trusted to make good and honest decisions about contract procurement, how can they make good and honest decisions about EMS? Or, anything else?