The city of Newberg and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue made good last week on recent threats to sue Metro West Ambulance Service for allegedly illegal ambulance pick-ups in Newberg that undercut a vital revenue stream for both parties.
The complaint, filed last week in Yamhill County Circuit Court, claims more than $1 million in damages and fines owed by Metro West to Newberg, TVF&R and Yamhill County for allegedly violating Newberg and TVF&R's exclusive right to offer ambulance service first to patients in Newberg, according to Les Hallman, former Newberg fire chief and an assistant chief with TVF&R
"The lawsuit is the last thing we wanted to do," Hallman said. "We tried, years ago when this first came to our attention, we tried to sit down with Metro West and say 'you can't do this, there's an ordinance in place, this is our first right of refusal,' and they just ignored us from the very beginning. It's unfortunate that it's gotten to the level of a lawsuit; that was not our desire."
Metro West has previously argued that an exemption in county rules allows them to legally operate in Newberg.
In a statement, Metro West declined to discuss specifics of the case due to pending litigation, but accused TVF&R of attempting to secure an unfair advantage.
"Our agency does deny the allegations in the complaint and we do look forward to being vindicated in court," the statements reads. "We also feel that this litigation is simply part of a larger plan for Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue to take over the ambulance and emergency services in Yamhill County for its own gain, which is concerning as it will significantly increase how much taxpayers will truly pay for these services — both non-emergency and emergency alike."
The issue arises from moving patients from one medical facility to another.
Yamhill County ordinances establish a single ambulance service provider in each of the four service areas of the county, including Newberg. While any ambulance service can drop patients off in Newberg, county rules reportedly give that single service provider the "right of first refusal" to pick up patients in Newberg.
County ordinances previously established the Newberg Fire Department as that sole service provider, which has been passed onto TVF&R.
Hallman explained the key issue is revenue from ambulance fees, which an emergency medical service provider collects from users as a way to keep some of the costs of that service away from taxpayers.
"In other words, when you bill (to) patients, that's helping fund the EMS service versus raising taxes to fund EMS service," he said.
Metro West spokeswoman Jan Lee has previously asserted the company's right to offer services in Yamhill County is based on a provision in the county ordinance that allows a non-county authorized ambulance service provider to continue operating in Newberg if it had a contract with a health care facility in Yamhill County before July 1, 2009.
She noted that Metro West has multiple contracts that originated before that date, though city legal staff have countered that those contracts have likely expired since.
With the complaint tallying at least 400 incidents of Metro West allegedly violating county rules, officials are claiming the city suffered at least $642,000 in damages while TVF&R suffered at least $169,000.
However, Hallman and other officials have acknowledged that they are not sure how many times Metro West picked up patients in Newberg and expect the full amount of damages to be determined if and when Metro West's records are subpoenaed in court.
In addition, the complaint calls for the courts to permanently bar Metro West "from continuing to violate the (Ambulance Service Area) Plan" and pay fines of at least $200,000 to Yamhill County, plus all three parties' legal costs. It also cites a section of the plan that imposes a $500 fine per violation, with each day of a continuing violation being considered a separate offense.