December 04, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

Two prospective ambulance providers including the City of La Grande have expressed interest in becoming Union Countys ambulance server.

In addition to the city, American Medical Response, an international private, for-profit company, has asked to review the countys requests for proposals.

AMR, a wholly-owned subsidy of Laidlaw Inc. of Burlington, Ontario, Canada, has its U.S. headquarters in Aurora, Colo. AMR serves about 5 million residents in its North Pacific Region which includes Hawaii, Northern California, Oregon and Washington, the company said. In Oregon, AMR runs ambulances in Multnomah, Clackamas and Josephine counties.

In addition to ambulance services, Laidlaw Inc. operates public transportation and education services nationwide.

A five-member selection subcommittee, appointed by the countys ambulance advisory committee, will meet Dec. 18 to consider the applicants. If the subcommittee reaches a decision then, it will submit its recommendations to the Union County commissioners on Dec. 19.

The commissioners are expected to schedule a public hearing for Jan. 2.

Grande Ronde Hospital, which has provided ambulance service to Union County for many years, has notified the county that it will discontinue service Jan. 15. The hospital has said, however, that it will work with the new provider for a smooth transition. The county will not be without ambulance service.

The hospital and representatives from La Grande have been meeting for more than six months to plan the transition from the hospital to the citys fire department.

James Mattes, hospital president, has said the hospital will donate three fully-equipped ambulances to the citys fire department and will provide emergency room training to the citys paramedics. The hospitals offers do not apply to any other prospective ambulance provider.

La Grande Fire Chief Bruce Weimer has said the department will probably hire three of the hospitals four paramedics. In the future, Weimer plans to hire combination firefighter-paramedics for all positions.

La Grande City Manager Wes Hare has said he expects revenues to exceed expenses by about $70,000 a year, although the hospital has said it is losing revenue on ambulance service.

Staffing and billing methods will affect the costs of running the ambulance. Under Medicare and some types of insurance, the hospital must include its ambulance service with all other services in a bundling process. The city will be able to bill only for ambulance service. The fire department now responds to all emergency calls within the city limits.

Service throughout the county will not change under fire department ownership.

The county, which has the final say on ambulance providers, will require a three-year contract.