D.C. Rushes to Hand over Critical Emergency Services to for-Profit Businesses

Categories: D.C. Government

Organizational instability, service cuts, and poor services are some of the most common complaints made against private emergency services. Yet the D.C. Council chose to put the lives of D.C. residents at risk by voting to hand over control of critical emergency services to for-profit businesses.

In a rushed meeting last week, council members voted to privatize parts of D.C.’s EMS system, including ambulances. The plan, developed by Chief Gregory Dean, is void of critical input from front-line civilian EMS providers. 

“The quick passage of this plan is dangerous to the emergency care provided by EMS to District residents and visitors,” AFGE Local 3721 President Aretha Lyles said. “This band-aid approach to a systemic problem will only send us back where we started.”

Lyles said all too often private corporations use local governments to pad their own pockets instead of putting people first. There are meaningful changes the city can make to meet the increased demand on EMS by investing in city-run systems that provide the best, most cost effective services to residents.

Instead of handing over control of critical services to for-profit companies, Lyles said the city should:

  • Center resources and funding on medical care. The demand on the EMS system for medical services nears 80%, yet only 20% of program resources are allocated to these services. It’s time for city officials to invest in the infrastructure of EMS that will truly address the quality of service.
  • Increase city civilian EMS over private companies. EMS non-emergency medical busses should be staffed and operated by D.C. government employees. Using private companies opens the door for these businesses to put profits over patients, charging them for services and mileage that occur during their transport to an area hospital.
  • Convene talks with trained civilian EMS in order to improve the system. Key stakeholders such as local doctors and nurses, hospitals, D.C. Department of Health, AFGE Local 3721, D.C. Federation of Citizens Associations and others must be at the table to provide critical feedback on how to best improve the system and meet the emergency medical needs of district residents.  The civilian EMS first-responders performing the lifesaving medical functions were completely cut out of the process in developing short-term plans to address gaps in service. The city must collaborate with these workers if it is serious about creating substantive change.

Critical public services should never be outsourced to for-profit companies. Too often outsourcing means taxpayers have very little say over the CEOs’ decisions that hurt public health and safety. They are left picking up the tab for cost overruns and are stuck with contracts that often last decades.

Read more horror stories on outsourcing in Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations

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