Multiple ambulances at the scene
AMR ambulances at a crash scene in March. Courtesy OnScene.TV

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded all of us just how vital our first responders are, from firefighters to police officers to paramedics.  

By working together, along with our doctors, nurses, and support personnel, San Diego’s response to the pandemic has been nothing short of exceptional. The people of this city should feel fortunate to have such a dedicated and talented team of public safety and medical professionals working hand-in-hand to combat this major public health crisis.     

San Diego’s 9-1-1 emergency responder, American Medical Response, has been a critical part of our success, working around-the-clock across the region to treat COVID-19 patients, safely transporting them to hospitals, quarantine facilities and shelters, and even assisting in administering vaccinations.

AMR has done all this while promptly responding to thousands of non-COVID-19 calls, from traffic accidents to in-home medical emergencies such as heart attacks, strokes and chronic health issues. 

Unfortunately, San Diego city staff is recommending — in the midst of this pandemic no less –that San Diego switch from AMR, which has effectively served the citizens of San Diego for decades, to a Denmark-based company with very little relevant experience.   

Like many others, we are shocked by this.   

First, the company that city staff is recommending, Falck, has performed miserably in other communities, most notably in Alameda County, the only other California market where it provides emergency service. Among other things, they have paid more than $400,000 in fines to the county over the past year-and-a-half for failing to meet contractually obligated response time requirements. These response time failures have occurred more often than not in communities of color.   

In an emergency, where seconds often make the difference between life and death, this is inexcusable.   

Aside from Falck’s performance issues, the company has also treated its first responders very poorly. When bidding on the Alameda contract, for example, Falck made certain commitments to its workforce. Sadly, once the company was awarded the contract, they reneged on them, reinforcing their reputation as a ruthless company that intentionally overpromises then under delivers.   

Falck has also abruptly closed down some of its operations and threatened to furlough employees as the pandemic spread across the state.    

AMR, on the other hand, has been a reliable community partner. Their performance has been strong, and they have treated their employees fairly. The company has met or exceeded all response requirements in San Diego for nearly four years straight and has rewarded its hardworking employees with well-deserved pay raises.  

Across the city, AMR has been a shining example of community service, supporting dozens upon dozens of local do-good organizations from the Boys & Girls Club, Alpha Project, Mana de San Diego, San Diego Black Nurses Association, the Burn Institute, Family Health Centers of San Diego, and many others.   

After examining the track records of both AMR and Falck, we believe that AMR is far and away the best 9-1-1 emergency responder. 

Given the life and death implications of emergency response, we join with many other prominent groups and community leaders in calling on the San Diego City Council to reject city staff’s recommendation and instead select AMR to continue serving the people of San Diego. 

Paul Hegyi is CEO of the San Diego County Medical Society. Terry Cunningham is president of the board of the Liver Coalition of San Diego.