There's little more than a month left before the city of San Diego makes a big switch to a new ambulance service.
City leaders have expressed doubts about whether the new provider, Falck Mobile Health, can get enough ambulances and hire enough people to work them. The company, though, says it's actually exceeding its contractual deadlines.
Falck has 35 days left to roll out 66 new ambulances and employ 350 employees in the field. Its new Kearny Mesa headquarters is still undergoing construction but will soon become a place for ambulances to rest, undergo maintenance or repairs, and train new employees.
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"So we’re excited,” says Dannie Wurtz, the director of clinical operations for Falck. “Very excited, though there’s a million moving parts and everyone is working really hard. We anticipate a very seamless transition. When someone calls 911 on Nov. 27 at 8 a.m., they’re not going to feel a difference, they’re not going to feel a delay."
Last month, however, city leaders weren't so confident, penning a letter that cited seven benchmarks that, they said, Falck failed to meet, “jeopardizing” the fulfillment of the city’s contract, which goes live on Thanksgiving weekend.
“It’s very tricky day to do a transition, and we have not seen a transition like this since 1997,” San Diego fire chief Colin Stowell told NBC 7, “so this is a very big transition that we’re seeing, so, of course, I’m anxious about it."
Stowell endorsed Falck to get the contract — mainly because of its promises to have more paramedics and ambulances to answer 911 calls.
“This company, Falck, won this bid based on the additional ambulance hours they proposed above and beyond what the current provider has every day,” Stowell said, “and that’s going to translate to about six to eight additional ambulances a day. And we wanted to make sure they were on schedule to meet those target numbers for the staffing, and we know that that is a big challenge for them."
Falck responded to the city's letter earlier this month, saying any missed deadlines were either non-contractual or out of their control.
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"Some of those we were 90-95% done, and we just had to get that last 5%,” Wurtz explained. “But that was a month ago, and with so much happening done every day, and so much progress being made every day, we hit those milestones."
Falck said a COVID delay on a truck microchip stalled the number of new ambulances coming in. As for its new hires, Falck said many employees were in the pipeline at the time the city penned that letter and are now signed employees.
"Everybody has concerns when there's change, and this is a contract that's been in place for a very long time” Wurtz said. “And to ramp everything up in six months, it's a lot of pressure, and I can see their concerns, but we're hitting our milestones now, and everything is on track and we're targeting to be everything in place by the time we go live."
At least for now, it seems the city's faith is restored.
“It was taking them a while to ramp up, and they were a little bit behind schedule,” Stowell said. “We’re happy to report that, as of right now, we’re very happy with where they are on the timeline."
As of Oct. 22, Falck said 21 of its ambulances are brand new. They hope to have 33 by the time the switch goes live. They have also hired 363 employees and are still looking to fill five more paramedic positions.