Jenny Raae-Nielsen from AmeriCare Ambulance removes a gurney from one of the service's vheicles on Wednesday. AmeriCare has recently been named Santa Monica's new ambulence provider. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITYWIDE — AmeriCare Ambulance, a Carson-based emergency transport provider that operates in five southern California counties, officially began transporting patients in Santa Monica on Aug. 8, according to the Santa Monica Fire Department.

The SMFD responds to approximately 40 calls for service each day, or over 12,000 each year, said Capt. Mark Bridges. Of those, 83 percent are for medical calls, often for people over the age of 65.

The Fire Department recommended the company to the City Council at its July 26 meeting, and a three-year contract was approved that night.

The item was placed on the consent agenda, a series of expenditures and approvals that usually receive little to no discussion.

SMFD officials were impressed by the company’s professionalism, state of the art technology and willingness to reinvest in the company, said Jodi Mannino Nevandro, the emergency medical services educator with the SMFD.

“They didn’t bat an eye when we told them we wanted things a certain way,” Nevandro said.

The company provided a new billing system that officials expect to raise $1.2 million in revenue that goes straight to the general fund. That money comes from a portion of the amount charged for the transportation and care, which is also how AmeriCare gets paid for its services.

The new system is fully-automated, Nevandro said, and comes backed up by a large staff.

“The data is better,” she said. “We had trouble meshing reports, so the accountability of our reporting to the city will be enhanced.”

Although that money goes to the general fund, the department hopes that increasing the revenue it brings in through superior billing will mean more money going to new equipment with the fire department, Bridges said.

AmeriCare is currently renting out space on 14th Street, satisfying a contract requirement to buy or rent a facility within 90 days of accepting the contract.

The company is looking to purchase property within city limits as part of its business model, said Kay Kearney, vice president of AmeriCare.

“We’re looking for something that can hold the employees, that is properly zoned, has all the facilities and enough parking,” Kearney said. “Parking is the biggest challenge we face right now.”

The company will have between 10 and 16 employees on site at any given time, with five dedicated units and two back-up units during the day, and one back-up unit during the evening.

Its broad network in other cities allows AmeriCare to pull in other ambulances as backup if need be, Kearney said.

“We’re really excited,” Kearney said. “All the employees are super-involved in every aspect of getting to know the city, how to get around the city and getting to know the neighbors.”

The decision to contract with AmeriCare represented a departure from business as usual, leaving behind the incumbent Gerber Ambulance Service, which held the contract for the previous seven years.

It came as a shock to Robert Gerber, who founded the company 23 years ago, to see the item on the City Council agenda with no word from City Hall regarding staff’s recommendation.

“I think it took us for a little bit of a surprise,” Gerber said.

In its seven years operating in Santa Monica, Gerber Ambulance completed over 44,000 calls for service with no requests for back up, Gerber said, and brought in $6 million to the general fund.

The company also instituted a compassionate billing system, which forgave over $100,000 worth of costs to residents who used the service but could not afford to pay.

“We get hardship letters,” Gerber said. “We look at every one individually, consider their hardship and either reduce a bill or take it off. I hope the new company follows suit.”

Two years ago, the company bought new large, modular ambulances to keep in line with City Hall’s requirements, and passed its audit with flying colors, Gerber said.

Now, it’s had to fire 45 employees.

It’s been tough, Gerber said, but he’s proud of the job that men and women of Gerber did for Santa Monica’s residents.

“We’re walking away with our head up high,” Gerber said.

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