San Diego's ambulance provider faces fines for poor response times

SAN DIEGO – San Diego’s emergency ambulance service soon may face fines and penalties for failing to meet obligations spelled out in its deal inked with the city last year.

The company, Falck Mobile Health Corp., was accused by the city of not fulfilling contractual staffing and service requirements. In a presentation made Wednesday to the city council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, data shows that Falck was assessed penalties for its response times, which fell short of compliance citywide in December and January and remained short in some parts of the community into February and March.

The result of those penalties came with nearly $2.4 million in fines, but much of that total from late December to the end of January was waived by the city due to COVID-19-related staffing issues.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Stowell did not mince words about Falck’s performance. He compared the results of the deal to an airplane passenger buying a first-class ticket and instead getting a coach ticket with the airline saying, “Well, you still got to your destination.”

Stowell made it clear moving ahead that the city expects more of Falck.

“We have about the same service level as we had about a year ago,” he said. “That is not what we expected in this contract. We expected more and that’s what we’re holding them accountable for.”

A Falck spokesperson explained that many of the company’s issues stem from the pandemic and the nationwide shortage of EMTs. By April, he said their response time had improved significantly.

“We were very pleased to report that in April, we were fully compliant in our response times in every zone in the city,” the spokesperson said, adding, “We do appreciate the city’s understanding of the omicron impact and the forgiveness of associated penalties.”

San Diego City Councilmember Marni von Wilpert said she’s “disappointed” that the city isn’t getting what it was promised from Falck.

“The reason Falck got this contract was because they said they were going to do more than AMR,” von Wilpert said. “It’s now May and we’re not there yet.”

She also pushed back on the notion of an EMT shortage in the city “because AMR is hiring so many people.”

“I think Falck needs to think about upping their incentive bonuses,” she said.

Read the entire city staff report on Falck here.

FOX 5’s Dillon Davis contributed to this report.

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