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State challenges Kern County's 'exclusive' ambulance contracts

KBAK/KBFX photo

California's Emergency Medical Services Authority is making a case that Kern County's "exclusive" contracts with Hall Ambulance and two smaller ambulance services violate state rules.

Kern County attorneys are preparing now for a hearing next month that has the potential to change the way the county does business with ambulance companies.

In Kern County, ambulance companies have monopolies over geographic regions specified in their contracts, known as "exclusive operational areas." Hall Ambulance has seven such areas, Ridgecrest-based Liberty Ambulance has two and Delano Ambulance Service has one.

In its correspondence with the county, the state writes that "a resolution by the Board of Supervisors cannot grant exclusivity," and that "exclusivity without a competitive process" cannot be used to "circumvent state rules."

In what Chief Deputy County Counsel Gurujodha Khalsa said was the first-ever appeal of its kind, Kern fought the state's ruling and gained a hearing with an administrative law judge who will travel to Bakersfield from Los Angeles March 13.

Khalsa said the county will reason that the state has no authority to intervene in ambulance contracts, that Kern's arrangement was legally "grandfathered in" and that the system in place works for residents.

Khalsa acknowledged that Hall Ambulance was the subject of a government report earlier this month that was critical of its emergency response times. He said that local authorities have taken action to correct the deficiencies and that the five ambulance services in Kern County have long records of good performance.

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