Seattle ambulance contractor pays $1.4M in fines

The private ambulance contractor for the Seattle Fire Department paid nearly $1.4 million last year for violating the terms of its contract with Seattle and arriving late to calls.

American Medical Response contracts with Seattle to provide basic life support ambulance services and transport low-acuity patients. Under the contract, AMR has target response times they must meet at least 90 percent of the time to avoid paying fines.

The first AMR ambulance must arrive in under 11.5 minutes. Last year, AMR ambulances arrived late around 20 percent of the time, according to records KUOW obtained from the Seattle Fire Department. Many ambulances were a few minutes late. A few took an hour or more to show up.

In a statement, a spokesperson for AMR said the longer response times are due to staffing shortages and long wait times at emergency rooms.

"During these waits for a hospital bed, which can range from 40 minutes to four hours, ambulance crews continue providing high-quality patient care either in the ambulance or in the receiving areas of the emergency department," the statement said. "However, ambulances held at local emergency rooms with patients cannot respond to other 911 calls."

Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins was not available for an interview.

In a statement, department spokesperson Kristin Tinsley said, "Chief Scoggins recognizes that there is a larger challenge with the entire healthcare system for transporting and getting patients to emergency rooms. His hope is that AMR can meet their contractual obligations so SFD units can remain available for the next response."

Washington's hospitals 'dramatically over capacity,' WSHA says it's not COVID-related

The high patient loads aren’t directly because of COVID-19 cases, although they are increasing, but due to delayed procedures and difficulties discharging hospital patients.

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She said AMR’s failure to meet its obligations "keeps our units on scene for longer and presents a challenge for SFD to provide the best customer service to the patients we treat."

The company’s performance didn’t improve much during the first part of 2022. AMR racked up nearly $500,000 in fines as of May 1. The money goes into the city of Seattle’s general fund.