City under pressure to approve ambulance sale

by Larry Lemmons
Newschannel 10

Amarillo, Texas - City officials say it's not an ultimatum, but the request given to them by Northwest Texas Healthcare System and AMR ambulance service gives the city only 21 days to approve the proposed sale.

It apparently took the city by surprise. In fact, someone apparently left the notification on the City Attorney's chair while he was at lunch last Tuesday.

City officials say they were considering the proposed sale of Amarillo Medical Services to national company American Medical Response Ambulance Service, but this notification is forcing the city's hand.

When NWTHS presented the city with their plan to sell the ambulance service, it was understood the city would take the time to consider the offer and consider other options. One such option would be to have the fire department take over the ambulance service.

James Williams, the head of Amarillo Professional Firefighters says they would "provide a better service to the community than a private company that only considers the bottom line."

But transitioning the service to the Fire Department would be expensive.  Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt says, "Because we do not have the funding in place. We would need to purchase all the ambulances. We would have to get the personnel in place and the city does not have that money in place right now. And to say, have a bond election, it's quite a process."

Williams says the fire department has presented the city with a proposal and believes that would be the best option for the citizens of Amarillo.  The proposal reportedly includes finding a place to locate the ambulances and a way to train fire and EMT personnel until all employees are trained in both.

City Manager Alan Taylor says the "City staff is currently performing due diligence analysis of the proposed sale...{and}...has been asked to include an evaluation of a publicly operated and supported emergency medical service."

But that would take time.  McCartt says the Commission is working with AMR and asking for an extension on the 21 days.  They say a template fashioned from the contract AMR operates in Arlington, Texas could serve as a model.  McCartt and Commissioner Jim Simms say they are confident they can work out a deal with AMR.  McCartt says "If we could not come up with an answer or solution in those 21 days, we would ask Northwest to continue with that coverage and I feel sure they would agree to do that."  She adds that they will have to cross all the t's and dot the i's on the contract to ensure AMR would not be able to abandon the city after a period of time.

However, the sale could go through without their permission and they say there's not a lot they could do about it.  The Mayor says they'd be operating without a city permit.

Williams, McCartt and Taylor say the fire department option is still on the table.  Meanwhile, Newschannel 10 and the City have received numerous emails from anonymous sources who say they are AMS employees who oppose the sale to AMR.