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Ambulance provider AMR sues San Bernardino County

Federal lawsuit alleges Board of Supervisors violated state and federal law when awarding the contract to a group of fire departments in December

Ambulances wait outside the emergency entrance at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Ambulances wait outside the emergency entrance at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
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Three months after the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted to stop using them to provide much of the county’s ambulance services, American Medical Response is in federal court.

At their Dec. 5 meeting, the supervisors voted unanimously to wind down the county’s decades-long relationship with AMR in favor of bringing on a coalition of 15 county fire departments, known as Consolidated Fire Agencies, or , to provide ambulance services. An earlier version of the company that would become AMR has operated in San Bernardino County since the 1970s.

On Friday, Feb. 2, the company fired back, suing San Bernardino County, the Board of Supervisors, the Inland Counties Emergency Medical Agency and CONFIRE in federal court. The lawsuit alleges that the board’s decision violated state law in awarding the contract to CONFIRE, which scored fewer points in the county’s review and evaluation process, and in the process violated federal antitrust law.

“The requirements set forth in the (request for proposals) were strict,” the lawsuit reads in part. “Among other things, the county was required to award the exclusive contract to the bidder with the highest scoring proposal. Moreover, any provider whose proposal failed to meet the minimum qualifications specified in the RFP could not be considered at all.”

By allegedly ignoring the competitive bid process in selecting CONFIRE, the county runs afoul of federal law, according to AMR’s lawsuit.

“It is clear the county was willing to disregard this mandatory process in order to award the contract to its pre-ordained preferred provider—CONFIRE—regardless of whether it had submitted the best bid,” the lawsuit reads in part. “In other words, the process actually employed by the county was not truly competitive at all.”

During the bidding process, San Bernardino County also wanted any new ambulance provider to be able to start operating by March 31. But CONFIRE isn’t expected to take over until Oct. 1.

“In fact, CONFIRE’s proposal should not have been considered to begin with, as it failed to fulfill basic minimum requirements mandated by the RFP,” the lawsuit reads in part.

According to AMR, the six-month delay suggests CONFIRE isn’t ready to take on the responsibility.

“Extending AMR’s contract for six months from April 1 to September 30 in the event of CONFIRE being award the contract was not an afterthought but rather a planned provision to allow for an orderly transition that was contained in clear language in the December 5 board item,” county spokesperson David Wert wrote in an email Thursday.

The county did not have any comment on the lawsuit on Thursday, according to Wert.

Colorado-based American Medical Response provides ambulance service in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

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