The state health department has delayed approval of Tempe’s ambulance contract with Professional Medical Transport, fearing it could touch off a sharp rise in costs for patients not just in the city but throughout the county as well.
Current ambulance service in the city won’t be affected by the delay.
However, the Department of Health Services sent PMT a letter late last month saying it wouldn’t approve the deal until it received more information.
“We want to conduct a thorough review and determine how this contract will affect costs,” said Terry Mullins, chief of the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services and Trauma System.
In the Feb. 29 letter, the health department outlined dozens of concerns that could boost costs for patients. Additionally, the department wanted the company to explain why it needed more ambulances and employees in Tempe.
Mullins said he had received a response from PMT this week and was reviewing it. The response wasn’t immediately available to the public.
Mullins wouldn’t speculate on how long his review might take or when he might approve the agreement.
The department is responsible for setting ambulance rates throughout the state’s individual counties. The rates must be the same for every city and town within that county. If costs go up for one city, they must go up everywhere else.
“I’ve never had a contract approved by the state right away,” said Bob Ramsey, co-owner of PMT. “We’re still very early in the process.”
Southwest Ambulance has long had an exclusive contract as Tempe’s 911 response provider, but the city put the contract up for bid last year.
The council recently voted to give the new contract to PMT.
Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman had wanted a draft of the contract to go before the state health department before the council voted. That, he said, “would have saved everyone a lot of time.” The Tempe mayor said he was disappointed that didn’t happen.
For PMT, this is the latest victory over its chief rival Southwest in its efforts to expand business throughout the Valley. In recent years, the two companies have brawled over local ambulance contracts with millions of dollars on the line. After losing Scottsdale’s lucrative contract in 2005, Southwest accused PMT of fraud.
The fight eventually carried over to Chandler, which instead of giving the contract to one company, split the city in two, with PMT serving one half while Southwest serves the other.