- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - The District of Columbia’s mayor has announced a contract with private ambulance service American Medical Response as part of a plan to boost the emergency medical response system in the nation’ capital.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Gregory Dean said Tuesday that the service will help reduce delayed 911 responses and give D.C. firefighters and paramedics more time for training.

“As the demand for pre-hospital medical care continues to grow, this is an extremely important step in EMS reform,” Bowser said in a statement. “This agreement will supplement our resources so that (the fire department) can most effectively deliver on its mission - responding to medical emergencies, and saving lives.”

The Washington Post reports that Colorado-based AMR, a subsidiary of Envision Healthcare, was the lead bidder for the temporary contract that starts in 30 days, but bidding for a permanent contract will take place after about a month.

Fire department personnel will respond to all 911 calls for pre-hospital medical care and transportation and evaluate patients to determine what level of care they need, including how they should be transported, officials said in a release. Between 7 a.m. and 1 a.m., the city’s high-call-volume period, AMR will transport patients with minor injuries or illnesses, such as colds and sprained ankles. That will free up D.C. Fire and EMS workers, who will continue to transport patients with life-threatening or time-sensitive conditions, such as cardiac arrest, stroke, major trauma and unconsciousness.

The fire department has a poor reputation for providing timely emergency medical care. The Associated Press reported in 2013 that the department was trying to make do with less than half the paramedics employed by departments with similar call volumes.

The city has also struggled to dispatch calls in a timely and efficient manner. When the city’s 911 call center got calls about smoke filling a Metro subway train in a downtown tunnel last January - an incident that ultimately claimed the life of a passenger - it took 5 minutes for the first firefighters to be dispatched to the scene. Also last year, a 1-year-old died after choking on a grape when the nearest ambulance wasn’t sent to the scene.

Last month, the department’s outgoing medical director submitted her resignation after less than seven months on the job, saying her efforts to reform the department had been stymied.

“People are dying needlessly because we are moving too slow,” Dr. Jullette Saussy said in the letter. She said the department’s culture “is highly toxic to the delivery of any semblance of quality pre-hospital care.” Michael Czin, a spokesman for the mayor, said at the time that many of Saussy’s claims were “highly inaccurate.”

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