PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — AMR, the sole ambulance provider in Multnomah County, was fined $513,650 by the county on Tuesday for not arriving to 911 calls in the required amount of time.

Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson announced the fines after AMR — American Medical Response — “were late enough to trigger penalties” on 14% of their calls in August. County officials said AMR did not arrive within 8 minutes “for high acuity calls in urban areas” that month.

AMR said 17 months ago they could fix the response times that grew worse since the pandemic. Multnomah County requires AMR to have 2 paramedics on their ambulances, but AMR has not been able to provide EMTs for a pilot program in the county, officials said in a release.

“AMR should be able to get there, especially when they’re expanding to other markets,” said Valdez Bravo, the interim director of the Multnomah County Health Department.

However, AMR added Washington County to its coverage area that also included Clackamas and Clark counties. AMR has been the sole ambulance service in Multnomah County since 1995.

AMR asked Multnomah County to drop the 2-paramedic requirement for having only one, similar to the other counties. But Pederson said those counties have a different emergency response model.

Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, May 9, 2023 (KOIN)
Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, May 9, 2023 (KOIN)

“Even our partner counties with different models are still seeing delays in response times,” Pederson said in a statement. “This problem was not created by a two-paramedic requirement.”

The contract with AMR allows Multnomah County to hand down fines for poor performance but cannot reduce fines.

Multnomah County will use the proceeds from the fines to fund emergency medical system improvements such as EMT and paramedic scholarships, retention initiatives, 911 education awareness campaigns, training, medical director initiatives and other projects and innovations.

“I think the system improvements will help with the coordination, but that it really is on AMR,” Bravo told KOIN 6 News.

Pederson said AMR “has the power and responsibility” to fix the response times.

“They have the power to subcontract with other agencies to bring on more paramedics and more ambulances. They have their own paramedic school where they can recruit and train more paramedics. They can also assign paramedics to work in Multnomah County or provide incentives to keep them here,” she said.

In a statement to KOIN 6 News, AMR said: “AMR strongly believes allowing EMTs to work with paramedics is the only viable way to improve response time performance now and for the foreseeable future.”

But Bravo said Multnomah County doesn’t plan to change their paramedic policy.

“This is a model that works. It’s a reason that we have some of the highest quality clinical outcomes in the nation,” he said. “We’re not willing to lower our quality standards now.”