The Pine Bluff City Council unanimously approved resolution Monday calling for a public discussion as to whether GEMS Ambulance Service’s occupation license should be revoked for violating city law.
A date has not yet been set for that discussion, according to the city clerk’s office.
The city attorney’s office already sent Galbraith Emergency Medical Services Ambulance Service Inc. a cease-and-desist notice March 7 instructing them to stop conducting ambulance runs that violate the city’s exclusive franchise agreement with sister companies Emergency Ambulance Service Inc. and Ambulance Transport Service.
The letter cites two documented occasions when GEMS, which opened an office near Jefferson Regional Medical Center earlier this year, has responded to calls and transported patients within the Pine Bluff city limits. One was a call on Feb. 22 from Trinity Village nursing home to JRMC and the other was on March 5 from a traffic accident on Interstate 530 to JRMC, according to the letter.
“Both situations involved emergency calls and transports originating in and wholly within the city limits of Pine Bluff, Ark.,” the letter, signed by City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott, states. “GEMS Ambulance Service took said actions despite it being fully aware of the existence of an exclusive franchise granted by city Ordinance No. 5834 to another entity to conduct ambulance service which originate within the city.”
The letter goes on to state that GEMS operates under a business occupation license granted by the city and notes that occupation licenses are contingent on the business abiding by the laws of the city and that the council may consider revoking that license.
GEMS Director of Operations John Galbraith has acknowledged running calls within the city limits. He said at Monday’s council meeting that he considers the ordinance, which was enacted in 1999, void because one of the business names mentioned in the ordinance no longer exists, that of Ron Lusby Ambulance Service.
“We believe that you can make the case that those two services don’t exist anymore, the contract from 1999 terminates itself by its own terms,” Galbraith said. “We came in here; we petitioned correctly; we did everything that we were supposed to do. We just wanted to go to work, that’s all, and here we are, two ambulance transports later, and you are thinking about revoking our occupation license. I was told that this city liked competition, that competition breeded better service. Have I been misinformed?”
In a letter to the mayor and the council, Hadden-Scott stated that EASI was the incorporated name and Ron Lusby’s Ambulance Service was registered as one of a couple fictitious names for the company.
“Because Lusby’s and EASI are deemed the same entity, the exclusive franchise agreement encompasses EASI Ambulance Service,” Hadden-Scott states in the letter.
Galbraith has said at previous meetings that Pine Bluff is currently underserved and competition would raise the quality of service for everyone.
EASI CEO Kenneth Starnes said that in the ambulance service industry, competition makes the environment more dangerous for customers, not better, and cited national, state and local sources, professional organizations and laws to support his position. Starnes argued that EASI has been operating in Pine Bluff for more than 40 years and has worked diligently to cooperate with JRMC and the fire department to streamline pre-hospital practices.
In order for GEMS to be able to operate in the city, the ordinance would have to be changed. In the months since Galbraith first started approaching the aldermen requesting the change, none have taken up Galbraith’s request.
The current agreement expires in Sept. 20, 2013. Hadden-Scott recommends in her letter to city officials that the ordinance be amended to establish a method for competitive bidding to take place after that contract expires and that the agreement term should be no less than five years because of the cost involved in equipping an ambulance service.
In other business, the council:
• Approved 8-0 an ordinance eliminating the fare on Pine Bluff Transit Department vehicles for passengers 62 years and older. An emergency clause was also unanimously approved, causing the change to go into immediate effect.
• Approved 8-0 two ordinances that amend city zoning code to add more detail about codes concerning mobile homes, modular buildings, manufactured housing, prefabricated homes, portable storage containers, accessory buildings and recreational vehicles.
• Approved 8-0 an ordinance that waives competitive bidding and allows the city to execute a contract with Thomas and Thomas LLP for professional services. The accounting company will consult the city on the arbitrage rebate rules found in federal tax code involving with the $9.6 million capital improvements bonds approved by voters in February 2011 and $6 million bonds issued in 2009.
• Approved 8-0 a resolution declaring March 30 International Stand Up to Bullying Day in the city of Pine Bluff. The designation was requested by student Legacy Paris. Participants wear pink shirts or blouses on March 30 to designate their resolve to eliminate bullying in schools and workplaces.
• Approved 8-0 resolutions commending outgoing commissioner Chris Castoro for his service on the Parks and Recreation Commission and appointing Carson Fields to the position.
• And approved 8-0 a resolution condemning a list of 17 buildings and ordering their demolition.