State agency investigating ambulance response times

Posted: Updated:
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- First bankruptcy, now an investigation into the response times of the state’s largest ambulance provider, Rural/Metro.

"The department is very concerned," said Terry Mullins of the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

In a recent letter sent to Rural/Metro, he noted self-reported response times failed to meet response time requirements in five of its service areas.

The numbers fell short by anywhere from several percentage points to nearly 13 percent for one service area in Maricopa County. The regions currently under scrutiny include parts of the Phoenix metro area, southern and central Maricopa County, Payson, Yuma and part of Pima County.

Factors or reasons behind the delayed responses are not yet known. ADHS has requested additional data from Rural/Metro and set a deadline by next month in an effort to learn more about the issue.

Rural/Metro, which includes Southwest Ambulance and PMT, filed for bankruptcy last month. The Department of Health Services has indicated concern that the company's financial health may prevent it from meeting its obligations.

"We're trying to be hyper vigilant during this process when they're going through the bankruptcy proceedings that we ensure they continue to meet their response times and meet their obligations to the public," Mullins said.

So far, the ADHS says it hasn't received any specific complaints or cases where response time has caused a problem. 

"I've been keeping my ear to the ground," Mullins said.

Valley resident Maggie Chianea, who's worked in health care, said there's no room for error in a business where minutes can mean life or death.

"It’s really dangerous and kind of scary because people's lives are at stake," Chianea said.

Rural/Metro declined an interview with 3TV but provided the following statement, which reads in part:

"Rural/Metro covers a vast area throughout Arizona. In our high density areas we see our response times meet or exceed requirements 100 percent of the time. In more rural areas, for example Arivaca, AZ, we experience infrequent responses and are working with first responders.
"Rural/Metro is fully staffed and continues to hire first responders to meet additional needs with the influx of Arizona winter visitors."