SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Santa Barbara County may be changing its ambulance services, but before that decision is made, a full review of options ahead needs to take place.
That plan has been in the works for months, but it was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current contract with the American Medical Response (AMR) will be running out soon and an extension has not been worked out. Efforts to do that are underway.
The County Board of Supervisors wants to have the AMR contract extended while it looks at other options for emergency medical services if it chooses to make a new agreement.
Either a new contract with AMR or another service could be approved by a current goal of October 2023.
"We can do better," said Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig. He joined other fire chiefs in the county who favor ambulance services handled through the fire agencies.
Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor says operational area fire partners are ready to collaborate on ambulance services and public health issues. That would include mental health, substance abuse and help for the unhoused.
Many supervisors have met with fire agencies and AMR to discuss the issue, timeline, and community needs going forward.
Santa Barbara County Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said the efforts related to ambulance services have been in discussion for several years. The county wants to prioritize the best clinical outcomes and also work towards innovation.
Supervisor Bob Nelson said "response times are hugely important."
A current study by the Santa Barbara City Fire department on its operation is underway. Chief Chris Mailes said as part of that work, a request for data from AMR was incomplete, and specifically said the data could not be used. He said if fire agencies ran ambulance services, "we will be a model of transparency."
AMR did not speak at the hearing.
The issue returns to the board later this month for an update on the AMR extension plan.