Judge mostly defends status quo, recommends ambulance shake-up in some rural areas

KBAK/KBFX photo, file

An administrative law judge on Friday issued a split decision on Kern County's ambulance model that mostly favors the status quo, which county lawyers fought to protect.

Those most likely to see a change in their ambulance coverage are those living around Wasco, Ridgecrest, Mojave and California City.

The judge heard lengthy arguments from each side in March, when the players convened in Bakersfield to iron out their differences about rules governing ambulance monopolies.

In one corner were the ambulance interests, whose business model was fiercely defended by county lawyers. In the other corner was the state's Emergency Medical Services Authority, who used testimony provided by a former Hall Ambulance employee in its argument that Kern County was running afoul of the rules.

At issue were contracts the board of supervisors approved for Hall Ambulance Service, Liberty Ambulance and Delano Ambulance.

There are 10 ambulance zones in Kern County. They're called "exclusive operating areas." Hall Ambulance has seven of them, Liberty Ambulance has two and Delano Ambulance has one. No one else can provide ambulance services in an exclusive operating area controlled by one of these three companies.

Judge Samuel Reyes said that seven of these 10 monopolies are legal and three of them are not. Chief Deputy County Counsel Gurujodha Khalsa was generally pleased with the ruling.

"I think this is a vindication and an affirmation of what Kern County has said all along," he said.

The judge's opinion is not necessarily the final word. A commission in Sacramento comprised of emergency services appointees will review the judge's recommendation at a regular meeting scheduled June 20. They can approve or reject the proposal or anything in between. The judge's word, however, is thought to be a reliable indicator of how the commission will vote.

If the commission rubber stamps the judge's ruling, they will dictate to the county whether Wasco, Ridgecrest and Mojave should have more than one ambulance company or continue as exclusive operating areas with a competitive bidding process designed to give more companies a shot at the market.

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