By Lyle Moran
LOWELL -- The city is moving ahead with plans to award Lowell-based Trinity EMS a new three-year ambulance contract in advance of its current deal expiring at the end of the fiscal year.
The likely awarding of a new deal to Trinity comes as City Manager Bernie Lynch prepares to step down on March 10.
The Board of Health is scheduled to vote Wednesday, Feb. 26 to approve the new pact with Trinity, which has held the ambulance contract with the city since 1992. The 6 p.m. meeting will be in the Mayor's Reception Room.
City Health Director Frank Singleton said he negotiated the new deal with Trinity after receiving the go-ahead from the Board of Health last month. He said Lynch would also be asked to sign the deal following board approval.
Under the new contract, the city would reserve the right to renew the contract for two additional one-year terms. Singleton said Lynch provided the recommendation on the length of the contract.
Trinity's current pact expires June 30.
According to state law, the city does not have to implement a competitive public bidding process for ambulatory services. It could, however, seek a request-for-proposals which allows companies to present a portfolio for services.
The city bypassed a public bid process based on recommendations from the Board of Health, which by city ordinance has oversight of the ambulance contract.
Singleton said he met with Lynch in December to discuss the expiring contract and to request the Board of Health begin the process to develop a successor agreement or start a new contract process.
On Dec. 18, Lynch sent the board a letter asking it to provide him with an opinion on Trinity's quality of service and performance, and whether negotiations should get underway for a successor contract.
Lynch also wrote that he expected an increase in the financial compensation provided to the city for EMS dispatch services.
Singleton said the board met in January and determined it wanted to proceed with a new deal with Trinity.
The board's deliberations to move forward with Trinity came after feedback was sought from both the Police and Fire Departments.
"The board felt comfortable with the performance and services delivered by Trinity," said Singleton.
Lynch said based on the feedback from the board, he told them to move forward with the process for a new contract, and he would determine down the road how he would proceed.
"I am generally supportive of such a contract based upon performance, cooperation with the city on a myriad of health related issues, new services that they will be providing to the Police department to address cell block medical care, and a continuation of the financial reimbursement that they provide to Lowell for services that the City provides to Trinity in providing EMS," Lynch said in an email. "That reimbursement which was implemented during my time as (city manager) has Trinity compensating the city $250,000-plus per year."
On Wednesday, Lynch said he would determine whether he would sign off on an approved deal based on the terms.
Trinity, which has more than 40 ambulances and 275 employees, is owned and operated by John Chemaly of Chelmsford and Gary Sepe of Pepperell. Chemaly confirmed he has been in discussions with the city for a new contract for a couple months and that a vote is expected next week.
"We are waiting to see what is going to happen and looking forward to the process ending," said Chemaly, declining to comment further on the contract.
Police Chief William Taylor wrote in a memo to the Board of Health that Trinity has become an integral part of the delivery of emergency medical services in the city and has a strong working relationship with the Police Department.
"The Lowell Police Department welcomes the opportunity to continue working with Trinity EMS, Inc. to provide emergency medical care within the city of Lowell," wrote Taylor.
Fire Chief Pitta, however, expressed what he later termed "minor" reservations, based on consultations with the last four fire lieutenants to serve as EMS coordinator.
"While patient care has never been an issue with Trinity, response times certainly have," Pitta wrote. "Also, a reluctance to provide response time and other data upon request has been (an) issue as well."
Pitta recommended to Lynch that a request-for-proposals "be developed and put forth affording the City the opportunity to consider proposals from multiple contractors."
In a recent interview, Pitta said he did not consider the response times a "serious issue." He also said he thought such contracts always went out to bid, though he said he learned later that has not been the case and is not required by law. Pitta said he was not trying to suggest that Trinity was not doing its job. He said the Fire Department has a strong working relationship with Trinity.
Singleton said Pitta never provided evidence to the board about his assertion about response times.
The new contract would require Trinity to pay the city $253,890 in year one, with a maximum escalator of 3.5 percent annually. Under the current contract, Trinity paid the city $228,156 in the first year, with the potential for an escalator clause of 6.5 percent annually.
The new contract also calls for Trinity to assist the Police Department in developing strategies and programs to address the health concerns of those in police custody. This will include assistance with patient monitoring equipment, documentation processes, protocols and related training.
Singleton said the changes are proposed in light of the death last year of Alyssa Brame while in police custody.
Follow Moran on Twitter @lylemoran