Negotiations between Daviess Fiscal Court, the city of Owensboro and Owensboro Health regarding a potential subsidy for the American Medical Response Inc. ambulance contract and the hotly contested backup ambulance service agreement ended in an attempt by OH to "tie the hands" of both Daviess County and Owensboro city officials, said Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly.

In documents obtained by the Messenger-Inquirer, OH President and CEO Greg Strahan contacted Mattingly and City Manager Nate Pagan via email on July 30 with OH's final proposal, which terminated at 5 p.m. Friday. In the email, Strahan, on behalf of OH's board of directors, offered to pay a subsidy not exceeding $50,000 for the first two years of AMR's $150,000 contact (a one-third split with the city and county). In the email, no mention of a backup ambulance agreement was made, but there was a new stipulation.

According to Strahan's email, "This proposal is subject to no competitor of Owensboro Health having any involvement in the ambulance service provided under the Agreement." Essentially, had county and city officials agreed to OH's proposal, they would have $50,000 without a guaranteed backup ambulance service from OH and be left without the option to seek one out through an OH competitor, like Evansville-based Deaconess, Mattingly said.

"In my opinion, it tied our hands in doing anything," he said. "That money was tied to us not negotiating any kind of a deal with their competitor in any fashion. I guess they thought they could buy us off of our position for $50,000, which is ludicrous as far as I'm concerned. Had this offer have been made on Jan. 1, then maybe it could have been considered, but even then, it would have involved the city and county changing bylaws.

"They leaned on the fence so long that they put us in the position to have to move without them. The big deal was that they weren't willing to sign the backup agreement. It is amazing to me that we have been able to come up with an agreement with Deaconess in a matter of weeks and it took us seven months to get to this point with Owensboro Health."

While OH, according to Strahan's email, was, "willing to assist the city and county with the payment of the subsidy and believes that such assistance is consistent with its mission and its place of leadership in the community," the frustrating thing, Pagan said, is that they weren't willing to be the backup provider.

"I think some people get confused about what the backup agreement is," he said. "It is essentially a contingency agreement where Owensboro Health would have stepped in only in the event that the contract with AMR were to be terminated. The backup agreement doesn't involve backing up the existing ambulance service in cases of ambulance shortage or bad weather, for instance, but solely exists if our contract with AMR terminates."

The backup agreement wouldn't have cost OH anything and exists, as it will with Deaconess, as a contingency, one that officials hope never has to be used, Pagan said.

"They are bringing in their patients at no cost to them," he said. "That is the frustrating thing. They weren't willing to be our provider and then they were trying to eliminate the most viable provider we had. It is frustrating to see OH not protect our citizens the way they should. "

Strahan and OH administrators were not available to comment before press time, said Brian Hamby, OH director of marketing.

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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