Northampton County: Nazareth Ambulance service remains council's favorite
Nazareth Ambulance Corps (NAC) continues to be Northampton County Council's favorite non-emergency transport service for Gracedale nursing home residents.
By a 3-6 vote, council members refused to award a contract to LifeStar Response for medical transport services at Gracedale, the county-owned nursing facility in Nazareth.
Council's March 21 meeting was the second time the contract was presented for approval. An Oct. 4, 2012, council meeting found council favoring the local nonprofit ambulance corps in spite of the fact that LifeStar's bid would save Gracedale thousands of dollars in the first year of the contract. New requests for proposals were sent out and three companies rebid the contract. The RFP was for a one-year contract with options for council to review and renew for two one-year contracts. The first year of LifeStar's low-bid contract was $225,000.
Again the recommendation of the Stoffa administration, Premier Healthcare's management and the Gracedale Advisory committee was for LifeStar.
Voting for LifeStar were council members Bob Werner, who serves as a liaison to Gracedale's Advisory Committee, John Cusick and Scott Parsons. The first year of LifeStar's contract would provide unlimited transports for Gracedale residents to doctors' appointments, hospitals and activities, all attended by CPR-trained and certified staff. With 100 employees at its Bethlehem location, LifeStar Response Corporation is the largest regional provider of ambulance transportation services on the East Coast and offers a full-range of emergency and non-emergency medical transportation services in many states, including New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, according to LifeStar's website.
Werner's support for LifeStar was also a show of support for Premier Healthcare, Gracedale's management company. Charged with restoring Gracedale to financial stability, council last year hired Premier and knew there would be tough decisions to make concerning Gracedale's bottom line. Going with Premiere's recommendation would have saved Gracedale $86,000 in the first year of the contract. To date, Premier's cost-saving efforts have reduced the county's Gracedale contribution to $3.7 million, which is down from $4.5 million in 2012.
Werner had advised council to take LifeStar for the first year and then come back to review its two-year option.
"Is this [issue] about Gracedale or saving Nazareth Ambulance Corps?" asked Werner.
At this point, council's choice of the Nazareth Ambulance Corps has left the Stoffa administration seeking legal advice to determine the next step in the contract award process. In the meantime, the NAC is working under its old contract to serve Gracedale, which is more expensive and which includes emergency and nonemergency medical transport.
This is not the first time council has chosen not to select the lowest bid on an RFP recommendation, said Cusick.
Of the six votes for the Nazareth Ambulance Corps, council members said their decisions can't always be about the biggest bang for the buck. Councilwoman Peg Ferraro, a Republican representing Nazareth, said while Gracedale's management company is doing a great job, she saw no reason to choose a new service provider when NAC had done nothing wrong. Gracedale residents had received consistent service with a personal touch over the years. Taking the contract away could possibly put the ambulance service out of business, she said.
The Nazareth Ambulance Corps provides expert and efficient emergency medical care and hospital transportation for residents and visitors of Nazareth and surrounding towns. According to its business profile, services include wheelchair transport, basic life support, stand-by services and more.
Councilman Ken Kraft, a Democrat representing Bethlehem, said he found it difficult to believe Life Star could provide these services so cheaply.
"I cannot support Life Star. I would be closing a company and supporting a bid I consider lowball," Kraft added.
When Kraft questioned LifeStar Senior Vice President Jim Dickinson during an earlier discussion of the numbers and the savings, Dickinson said, "We did not underbid; we bid what our rates are."
Council's next regular meeting is at 6:30 p.m., April 4 at Northampton County Courthouse's third floor, 669 Washington St., Easton.