Breaking News
More () »

Slow or no responses from AMR ambulances will now result in penalties, Multnomah County says

AMR has cited staffing shortages, exacerbated by Multnomah County's two-paramedic policy, as the reason why ambulances are late or unavailable for emergency calls.

PORTLAND, Ore. — After months of worsening ambulance response times, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson announced Wednesday that the county will begin issuing penalties to service provider American Medical Response for "performance issues."

“My patience is exhausted. AMR’s ambulance response times are unacceptable and they have not met performance metrics in months, requiring that we take action,” Vega Pederson said in a statement. "We tried working with AMR to improve this situation without success.

"As a result, we’ve informed AMR today that we will be exercising our contractual authority to levy penalties for their ongoing non-compliance. We’re also reserving our right to levy penalties for prior non-compliance. In addition, we’re piloting two programs to help address management of the current increased 911 medical call volume and considering other solutions.”

KGW investigative reporter Evan Watson has been closely following the issues with AMR's response times, reporting in June that Multnomah County dispatch had logged 6,300 "Level Zero" incidents since January. In all of those cases, dispatchers had zero AMR ambulances available to respond to a 911 call.

RELATED: A Portland man died waiting for an ambulance that didn't arrive for 32 minutes: 'Give people a fighting chance'

In July, AMR outlined its plan to address these performance issues, which extend to other counties in the Portland metro area. At that time, the company said that it was short 38 paramedics from the complete staff of 275 needed in Multnomah County.

Though slow response times have been an issue throughout the area, AMR has pointed to Multnomah County's policies in particular as a barrier to reaching adequate staffing levels. The county requires that both members of each ambulance crew be paramedics, which are better-trained and typically higher-paid EMS workers, when other counties in the area allow for crews to include one paramedic and one EMT.

According to Multnomah County, AMR said in a staffing improvement plan submitted in June 2022 that it could fix its issues with performance by taking several actions. In May of this year, the county launched a pilot program to send ambulances with EMTs to lower-acuity calls. Regardless, county officials said, AMR's response times have not improved.

"In its actions today, the County Health Department notified AMR that it expects the ambulance company to meet the response times required by the County’s contract in August," the county said. "Failure to do so will result in monthly fines for its August performance being collected in September."

In a letter to the Gresham City Council dated August 9, Vega Pederson acknowledged concerns they'd raised about Multnomah County's EMS system, telling them that the county would begin penalizing AMR. She indicated that the county has no immediate plans to budge on its two-paramedic requirement with the exception of the aforementioned pilot program.

This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.

Before You Leave, Check This Out