Mayor says answering 9-1-1 calls from Benavides costing city

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

Officials with the City of San Diego are searching for solutions to a reduction in income from the city's ambulance service, but some of those officials disagree on the cause of the reduction.

Melanie Hinojosa, a representative of Data Provider Service, the company that provides medical billing for the city, gave a presentation to the San Diego City Council Wednesday in which she said revenue from the San Diego EMS is down significantly in 2007.

Hinojosa told the council for the first quarter of 2007, the EMS has collected $173,016, compared to the $237,063 collected in the first quarter of 2006.

On average in 2006, the EMS responded to 280 calls per month, Hinojosa said, but that number has dropped to only 150 calls per month in 2007.

Hinojosa said the primary reason for the city's reduced income from the EMS is a reduction in the number of calls the EMS has to transport dialysis patients.

Those transport calls, which generally occur on a regular basis, had provided the city with steady income, Hinojosa said.

San Diego EMS Director Sergio Garcia said Wednesday the reduction in transportation of dialysis patients was caused by restrictions on the number of hours he was able to pay his personnel, limiting the number of personnel available to operate extra ambulances for transports.

Those restrictions, Garcia said, were placed by Mayor Alonzo Lopez Jr.

"They are trying to save on the overtime, but then we lost all those calls," Garcia said. "It has a trickle-down effect."

Lopez acknowledged he placed restrictions on the hours the city would pay EMS personnel, but denied those restrictions were the cause for the reduction in EMS revenue.

"The reason that has gone way down is because of us having to do all the 9-1-1 calls to Benavides," Lopez said. "Our ambulance would be able to do more (dialysis) runs (if they did not have those calls)."

All extra revenue generated by the San Diego EMS is placed in the city's general fund, and is used to fund a variety of items for the city, Garcia said.

In other business, the council approved the hiring and appointment of Matias Briones III as the new parks and maintenance supervisor for the city.

The council tabled an action item to hire new police officers, as well as an item to discuss and act on the proposed new city hall.

An item to accept the audit for fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2006 was also tabled to allow the city's accountant more time to complete the audit.

Before the regularly scheduled meeting, Lopez and council members Ricky Munoz and Juan A. Perez held a posted, informal workshop on the proposed street drainage and repair project. A representative of LNV Engineers, the company that is planning the proposed project, answered questions from the council members and discussed dates for a public hearing on the issue.

No date for the public hearing was set before the end of the workshop, but a date is expected to be announced this week.