Altering the way ambulance service is run in Augusta should take longer than the six months city officials have set aside to examine making a change, said members of a technical committee studying the city's service.
The committee agreed that making initial improvements would be a matter only of setting bench marks, things the city could start working toward almost immediately.
"I think this is the correct thing to do - to slow the process down," said Dr. Phillip Coule, the director of Emergency Medical Service for the Medical College of Georgia and a member of the technical advisory committee of the Augusta Commission's Ambulance Service Study Subcommittee, which met Thursday.
The technical committee, which is made up of representatives from area hospitals, emergency agencies and city departments, voted unanimously to recommend renegotiating a two-year contract with the city's Emergency Medical Service provider, Rural/Metro ambulance, as a short-term solution.
As a long-term goal for the city, the committee endorsed spending the next year drafting a new set of qualifications for local ambulance service before sending it out to bid. Committee members said that bid should include provisions, such as requiring an EMS provider to beregulated by an independent oversight committee, be subject to regular financial audits and be held to a set of specific standards when administering emergency medical attention.
The technical committee's recommendation must go through the city's Ambulance Service Study Subcommittee and the Public Safety Committee before it reaches the full Augusta Commission.
"We've got a lot of groundwork to lay and a lot of experience to put under our belts between now and when we come up with a permanent solution," City Administrator George Kolb said. "We don't want to maintain the status quo."
Mr. Kolb brought the executive director of the Richmond, Va., Ambulance Authority to serve as an adviser to the technical committee. Jerry Overton, who provides consulting services as a free public service to governments throughout the country, said Augusta seemed to be rushing to make a change.
For example, he said, the process of writing up guidelines for an ambulance provider took nine months in Richmond, and Augusta had allotted only four to five weeks for the job.
Mr. Overton also recommended incorporating performance standards, such as requiring regular reports on ambulance response times and survival rate statistics, into the initial two-year extension with Rural/Metro.
"In other words, are they going to show up on time, and are they going to save your life?" he said. "Performance-based contracting means accountability."
Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.