Southwest Ambulance’s protest against a rival emergency services firm uncovered that potential conflicts existed for both companies in the competition for Scottsdale’s 911 contract, hearing transcripts show.
A final ruling on whether Professional Medical Transport unfairly won the lucrative ambulance contract is expected this week, and might close out what has been a vicious fight over millions of dollars in patient billing. Or the ruling might open a new chapter should the loser file a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court.
In September, a cityappointed selection panel voted in favor of PMT, then a small firm that specialized in shuttling patients between hospitals, over Southwest, which has long dominated the East Valley ambulance industry.
Lawyers for Southwest sought to prove the emergency response firm lost the city’s business because Scottsdale bungled in appointing possibly biased people to the fivemember selection panel and that its competitor cheated.
PMT has been serving Scottsdale since February.
Josh Weiss, a Southwest spokesman, said his company has been “vindicated” by what was found during the hearings.
PMT officials argue that Southwest is overamplifying parts of the testimony to make a case that does not exist.
“Although there was a lot of innuendo and suggestion, there’s no meat on the bone,” said Patrick McGroder III, PMT’s attorney.
One panel member — Barbara Pletz, the head of emergency medical services for San Mateo County, Calif. — testified that more than a decade ago she worked with two administrators now employed by PMT’s sister company in Las Vegas, transcripts show.
Scottsdale Fire Chief William McDonald also worked with Pletz when he was the city of San Mateo fire chief before joining Scottsdale in 2004, according to testimony.
The administrators, Sharon Henry and John Wilson, worked for Bay Star, San Mateo’s ambulance provider, in the early 1990s. Both now work for StarWest, owned by Bob Ramsey, who also owns PMT.
Pletz said she did not disclose the potential conflict because, at first, she was unaware of it. When she learned that Henry and Wilson were affiliated with PMT, Pletz testified she was unconcerned because “there’s no relationship that I have with either of them that would cause me to say I should be disqualified from this.”
Testimony also showed that Southwest had a link to the panel.
The son of one panelist, Mary Kopp, a nurse with Scottsdale Healthcare, works in the company’s dispatch operations. Weiss said Kopp’s son was not affected by the outcome of Scottsdale’s contract.
Kopp testified that she informed McDonald of her potential conflict. Because her son did not work in Southwest’s 911 response division, they determined there was no conflict, the transcript shows.
“So we felt it was, you know, definitely not a problem,” Kopp testified. “And he was comfortable with my being on the evaluation team.”
For more than a year, Southwest and PMT have battled for ambulance contracts in Scottsdale, Chandler and Tempe. Scottsdale’s contract alone is worth an estimated $6 million a year in patient charges.
Southwest’s dominance has been challenged by its founder, Ramsey, who sold Southwest to Rural/Metro Corp. in 1998. Ramsey purchased a controlling share of PMT in February 2005 and reshaped it into a 911 provider.
Since then, the firms have repeatedly accused each other of underhanded tactics.
PMT hired a Tempe city councilman at the same time it was lobbying that city to open its contract with Southwest to competition. In its protest, Southwest alleged that PMT violated federal anti-kickback laws by offering to purchase 150 defibrillators for Scottsdale community groups.
Southwest offered PMT employees $8,000 signing bonuses to any that joined Southwest.
One of those who took the bonus gave Southwest an affidavit in which he said he overheard Michelle Angle, PMT’s spokeswoman, say one of the Scottsdale panelists was a “lock” to vote for PMT. The panelist was allegedly from San Mateo, a description that only Pletz meets.
Hearing officer William Chamberlain refused to admit the affidavit as evidence. PMT’s McGroder said the affidavit was excluded “because of its inherent unreliability.”
Nonetheless, Robert Roos, a Southwest attorney, regularly referred to the statement throughout the proceedings.
“Is there any reason that PMT would have thought that it had you in the bag?” Roos asked Pletz.
“I have no idea why they would think so,” she responded.