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City’s ambulance provider continues to arrive late to emergency calls

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The future of the primary EMS provider in Colorado Springs is in question.

Throughout 2022, American Medical Response arrived late to life-threatening calls, requiring the company to pay millions in damages to the city.

According to AMR, its contract with the city states its paramedics must arrive within eight minutes of life threatening, also known as Priority 1 calls, 90% of the time.

13 Investigates obtained data that shows AMR’s average response through October 2022 (the most up-to-date data) was on time for 88% of calls.

The city’s contract with AMR went into effect in April 2020. Since the start of the contract, AMR met the city’s response-time threshold each month until the end of 2021. That’s when the arrival time started to suffer.

In December 2021, AMR didn’t meet the city’s response-time requirements for the first time during its contract. And it only got worse in 2022. Last January, ambulances were late to about 19% of all emergency calls. Through October 2022, AMR only met the city’s threshold in three of the 10 months.

Ambulance Contractor Performance and Compliance Report

The late responses in that 10-month span, cost AMR nearly $3.3 million in damages to the city. According to the data, AMR has to pay the city $50 every minute they are late to a call. That amount doubles when the response time is twice the maximum time allotted. AMR also has to pay $3,000 anytime the Colorado Springs Fire Department has to respond in place of an AMR paramedic. In January 2021 alone, AMR paid $652,450 in damages.

“It's been difficult,” said Scott Lenn, the vice president of operations for AMR. “We paid fines. We’ve raised our wages with employees. We've provided overtime. We’ve done a lot of different things during this contract.”

Lenn said the drop in response time is due to staffing shortages following the pandemic.

“That short staff caused us to have less resources available to put on the street,” Lenn said. “Although we worked with employees and teams to get the people in there to maintain the service, it still wasn't at the response time requirement.”

Right now, AMR has about 48 paramedics in Colorado Springs. Lenn said it needs about 53 to be fully staffed.

“It's not unique to Colorado Springs,” Lenn said. “We've done everything we could. We've managed through it. We work with the Colorado Springs Fire Department. We brought team members in from other areas as well to help during that time.”

Because of the late response times, the city placed AMR on a cure period until the end of 2022. The cure period requires AMR to arrive on time to 90% of all calls. If it doesn’t, the city can terminate its contract with AMR.

A city official told 13 Investigates that AMR's contract is not a council decision. Before the new contract went into effect in 2020, the council was briefed about it. But the authority to approve or end the contract is up to the Colorado Springs Fire Department and the city's procurement department.

The city doesn’t have the data for November or December, so it won’t know if AMR met the 90% threshold until the end of January. However, Lenn said paramedics arrived on time to 89.38% of calls in December, but it's still pending the Colorado Springs Fire Department’s approval.

AMR’s response time slowly improved by the end of 2022. Lenn said it’s largely because staffing improved as well. He credits the company's Earn to Learn program, which is where AMR pays and sends paramedics to school.

Lenn said he isn’t sure if the city will end their contract with AMR but that they are collaborating with the fire department to maintain service.

“I don't have a crystal ball,” Lenn said, “so we will continue to work with them.”

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.

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