American Medical Response, or AMR...has long been the provider of ambulance services across much of Sonoma County. That includes Rohnert Park, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.
But the private company fired something of a shot across the county’s bow last week. The company is alleging Sonoma County officials acted improperly and unfairly when they rejected AMR's contract renewal bid.
Instead, they chose the county fire department to provide ambulance services going forward...a lucrative and substantial contract.
The company wants the winning bidder disqualified, and for the county to exclusively negotiate with AMR or start all over from square one.
A 16-page letter accuses the county of a litany of misdeeds. It uses words such as "defective," "infected by a clear conflict of interest," with a process quote "completed in a manner inconsistent with the California Constitution."
Technically a letter of protest, it shares some similarities with a demand letter---communications by lawyers ahead of a suit.
It offers Sonoma County two choices---rip up its decision awarding the contract to Sonoma County Fire and the private company "Medic" and instead exclusively negotiate a new deal with AMR. Or, throw out the entire process and launch it anew. It doesn't specifically mention a lawsuit, yet leaves little doubt.
The letter also asks the county's Department of Health Services to intervene and stop the process.
According to the letter, a proposed deal awarding the contract for ambulance service to Sonoma County Fire and private ambulance operator Medic violates voter-approved state constitutional amendments regarding taxes and fees.
Jason Sorrick is vice president of government affairs for AMR. He said recent changes to what Medi-Cal pays for an ambulance ride has resulted in people with different kinds of medical insurance being charged different rates. Even if the bills have less difference once insurers pay their share, Sorrick says that's a no-no under a voter approved anti-tax measure.
“Their cost per transport is less than nine hundred dollars, but they are charges will be thirty-one-hundred dollars. Under Prop. 26, as a public agency, you essentially can’t charge more than the costs are for the service, unless you seek two-thirds voter approval. But in addition, you cannot generate a profit, meaning you can’t generate more money than it costs you to provide a service, unless you get voter approval to do that.”
AMR also alleges the county's process was tainted by a conflict of interest. One of the members of the county's selection committee helped launch a nonprofit group, Colorado-based Women in Emergency Services.
Medic, AMR's rival, donated to the group, which AMR says appears improper.
"Not only did they contribute at least ten thousand dollars, but the timing was significant as well. I believe the transaction would have occurred just maybe a couple of days, if not a day before they presented to the review committee, who was scoring the RFP, and upon which Miss Gnojek was a part of the review committee, " Sorrick said.
Amy Gnojek, a Colorado-based certified public accountant at Apex 360 llc, is currently traveling out of the country and could not be reached by phone. Emails and social media messages were not returned. Women in Emergency Services, the Colorado-based nonprofit, bills itself as a professional and networking association.
Sorrick sees something more sinister.
"We believe that that relationship between medic and miss Gnojek is on multiple grounds a conflict of interest," he said.
Sorrick further claims that advocacy by members of the county fire department violated a gag rule and amounted to ex-parte communications.
In the face of protest letters like the one from AMR, county procedures require a timely reply to resolve or request more information, and an ultimate decision up to two weeks later. It's unclear if the county has officially replied.
KRCB News reached out to Sonoma County's public information office and county counsel for elaboration and comment Monday but did not receive a response.
KRCB News was told Tuesday morning that officials were in the process of locating someone to present the county's position and response. We will bring you that as soon as it can be arranged.