Blue Star

Scott Sullivan
Creating requests for proposals, then seeking competitive bids, is not a new process nor rocket science. It is Government 101.

There he went, zooming by in his late-model black BMW. “MR2COOL” said the license plate. I was driving to work in Saugatuck; he was headed at 90 mph to who knows where.

I aspired to be MR2COOL once but couldn’t afford the accessories. Then I got old and could only remember Carly Simon’s 1972 song “You’re So Vain” to sing praises due him. Was he en route to a party, which he’d enter like he was walking onto a yacht? Surely by now that must be passé.

My hopes to be MR2COOL died when I fainted at the newspaper office three years ago and an ambulance hauled me to Holland Hospital. Instead of flying my Lear jet to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun, I was at the mercy of EMTs serving our rural area.

They worked for American Medical Response, the longtime contractor here, and were wonderful. Not that I, needing critical care, was in a state to critique them. When someone saves your life, no matter how uncool that life is, you’re grateful.

AMR’s great but I still support first-year Saugatuck Township manager Aaron Sheridan questioning the ambulance district’s proposed new contract with the company.

Sheridan (whose township representative missed the ambulance board’s last meeting) learned in late February that body had not sought competitive bids before recommending its member governments—Saugatuck, Ganges, Manlius, Lee and Clyde townships, plus Fennville city—approve AMR’s new 5-year proposal. It did so despite the fact two other qualified providers—Kalamazoo-based Pride Care and Life EMS of Grand Rapids—also serve the area. All those governments, except Saugatuck’s, have now done so.

Sheridan solicited contract proposals from Life and Pride Care. Both came back with terms better than AMR’s were—not surprising since they’d seen AMR’s numbers first.

AMR district manager Dick Whipple objected, rightly. What had his firm—which has served ably and submitted its bid in good faith according to standards asked by the board—done wrong?

The problem lies not with Sheridan nor AMR, but the board. By not seeking competitive bids it has disserved the taxpayers. Saying “We’ve always done it that way” shows why fresh eyes are needed. Creating requests for proposals, then seeking competitive bids, is not a new process nor rocket science. It is Government 101.

The old contract expired April 1. AMR has graciously extended it while the board reviews Saugatuck Township’s request to pursue a better bidding process. Whipple suggests the board look at two options April 17:

1) Renew the 5-year AMR contract as recommended by a majority of its members. Should this happen, Saugatuck Township may leave the district and seek a new contract joining its southern half with its northern one—served, ironically, by the AMR Holland unit.

2) Renew the AMR Fennville contract for one year while the board puts together an RFP—including response time standards, penalties if they’re not met and allowable exceptions (say, for bad weather)—then putting the system to bid at the same time for all providers. The board would have every right to consider past service a factor in its decision. This option makes the best sense to me.

Not that members should listen to MRUNCOOL. As a Type 1 diabetic, I’ve been, um, chauffered and treated well by Life EMS as well. Pride Care may be great too, but I’d rather not have to test its efforts. When we’re talking life and death, value means more than just lowest price.

I hope MR2COOL’s fast living doesn’t end with own humbling ambulance ride. What’s the rush to oblivion? We all get there soon enough.

For full story, pick up a copy of the April 10 issue of The Commercial Record or subscribe to the e-edition.

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