The protest process for Santa Barbara County’s ambulance services contract bidding will last longer than expected, and the review committee won’t be allowed to use its consultant.
The county is holding a public bidding process for its ambulance services contract, and an evaluation committee scored American Medical Response’s proposal higher than the county Fire Department’s proposal.
Fire Chief Mark Hartwig protested the decision, and the protest documents are being reviewed.
Staff asked the Board of Supervisors to add $51,000 to the Fitch & Associates consultant contract for support during the protest and appeal process, which wasn’t in the original scope of work.
On Tuesday, supervisors rejected the contract amendment, and said they would rather have in-house staff work on the protest process.
County Fire’s protest letter questions the proposal scoring and the request-for-proposals process.
Because of that, Supervisor Bob Nelson said, having Fitch & Associates participate in the protest evaluation process appears to be a conflict of interest.
“It seems like an inappropriate relationship in the first place, let alone paying them to be part of that,” Nelson said.
Fitch & Associates has a vested interest in saying the process was done correctly, he added.
Supervisor Gregg Hart agreed.
“I wasn’t pleased with the outcome and just feel as though we need fresh eyes helping us look at every step of the way going forward,” he said.
Supervisor Das Williams said having the consultant participate in the protest and appeal process “feels like continuing to outsource part of our brain, and I’m not sure I’m interested in that any more.”
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said the board should let the process play out without intervening.
“It seems like we’re putting our thumb on the scale,” he said.
Fitch & Associates has expertise in public safety issues including emergency medical services and ambulance services, 9-1-1 communications systems, and ground critical care transport, according to the firm’s website.
Interim Public Health Director Daniel Nielson said the request-for-proposals protest period was going to end Wednesday, but will be extended into next week after additional documents were submitted.
A protest committee – including county counsel, the procurement office and Fitch & Associates – reviews the protest documents and makes a decision, according to the Public Health Department.
With the Board of Supervisors’ decision, the consulting firm apparently won’t be part of that.
If the protest result is appealed, it’s heard by a Protest Resolution Committee, whose members are not being disclosed by the county. That would likely happen around the end of the year, Nielson said.
In another protest letter filed last week, Hartwig alleged that AMR’s contract dispute with Sonoma County should be considered when evaluating the proposal.
“We believe that AMR’s unilateral move to vacate their existing agreement with Sonoma County and not comply with any performance requirements from the contract (in addition to demanding payment from the county) eliminates them as a ‘qualified bidder’ under the current procurement.” Hartwig wrote.
AMR has provided ambulance services in Sonoma County for 30 years and Sonoma County is conducting a request-for-proposals process for a new contract, according to The Press Democrat.
In an October letter, AMR said Sonoma County “seemingly forced the extensions to allow the local fire department to better compete against AMR in the future RFP.”
Hartwig filed his letter, and attached the Sonoma County letters, on Nov. 23, and AMR filed a response arguing that the documents should not be accepted.
Or, if they’re accepted, they should be found irrelevant, AMR attorney Pamela Johnston wrote.
“AMR has a bona fide dispute with Sonoma County arising from the state EMSA’s denial in June 2022 of Sonoma County’s request to extend AMR’s exclusive contract,” she wrote.
“The Sonoma dispute has no bearing on AMR’s ability to serve the people of Santa Barbara.”