November 22, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A fairly complex process of choosing an ambulance provider for Union County began Wednesday when the county commissioners appointed Commissioner Colleen MacLeod as the liaison to the ambulance advisory committee.

MacLeod will work with a five-member selection committee to review bids under advisory committee guidelines and make a recommendation to the county commissioners, who have the final say in awarding ambulance service. Members of the selection committee come from the public at large and must have no vested interest in any ambulance provider.

Grande Ronde Hospital notified the county last week that it will give up ambulance service as of Jan. 13. Since last spring, the hospital has been discussing with the City of La Grande the possibility of transferring service to the citys fire department.

The countys ambulance plan requires the city to compete against other potential providers through a bidding process, although the state does not require a bidding process for ambulance service.

The ambulance advisory committee is expected to prepare a request for proposals during its meeting Wednesday. The committee will meet at 6 p.m. in the commissioners meeting room of the Joseph Annex. The meeting is open to the public.

MacLeod asked if the county would be required to accept the lowest bid.

La Grande City Manager Wes Hare said that the quality of ambulance service should be an issue.

This is not an issue of the lowest possible rates, Hare said. Its an issue of high-quality services. Theres not a lot to be served by promoting a big competitive process.

But ambulance advisory committee chair Mike Gooderham disagreed.

Part of the process is competitiveness, he said. Its worthwhile to look at budgets. Its part of our role to determine what is best for ambulance users.

The hospital has said it will donate three fully-equipped ambulances to the city and will provide training for fire department paramedics through the hospital emergency room. Hospital President James Mattes has said the ambulance donations and the paramedic training will be available only if the city becomes the ambulance provider.

Hare told the county commissioners that timing is important. If the city is to be the provider, it must take over the service during the winter because of Medicare requirements.

We need to establish a Medicare billing record, he said. If we dont have a record by the spring, Medicare will set one for us and it may be lower than we need. We cant use the hospitals record.

La Grande Fire Chief Bruce Weimer, who would administer ambulance service under the citys plan, said the city needs to take several legal steps, including a licensing procedure, before it can assume service.

Mattes has said there will be no break in ambulance service for the county.

Dara Decker, the countys emergency services director, and MacLeod will coordinate the process. After the proposals have been written, the county will advertise for bids. The county plan does not call for a specific time line for accepting and awarding of ambulance bids, and the commissioners said Wednesday they will have a special meeting in December, if necessary, to speed up the process.