City of Bishop struggles with Symons Ambulance non-payment for dispatch service

symonsambulance.jpgFor the past two years, Symons Ambulance of San Bernardino and Bishop was named by Inc. Magazine in its “List of 5,000” as one of the fastest growing companies in the nation with revenue this year listed at $3.9 million. Also this year, Symons has failed to pay the City of Bishop $13,000 for several months of ambulance dispatch services, failed to negotiate a new contract which expired in July, failed to cooperate with financial documents and discussions. Now the City faces the possibility of termination of dispatch service for Symons. This does not mean an end to ambulance service, but it could mean an end to the Bishop Police Department dispatching ambulances.

In a press release issued by the Bishop Police Department, officials say, “At the regularly scheduled City Council meeting of December 9th, Police Chief Chris Carter will ask the Bishop City Council to consider discontinuing providing dispatch service to Symons Emergency Specialties (Ambulance) effective January 1, 2014.”  The press release goes on to say that “This request from Chief Carter comes after several months of negotiations with Symons in an attempt to renew an existing contract.”

Symons Ambulance originated in Bishop with founder, Judd Symons. Now, it is a major company with millions in revenue, according to Inc. Magazine. The Symons Ambulance website says the company is the ambulance provider for Southern California areas, including a newly opened Loma Linda University Medical Center in Murrieta. The site also says Symons Ambulance raced the first ambulance in the Baja 1000 on November 18th and recently opened a division in Henderson, Nevada. So why the lack of response and payment to the City of Bishop?

We called Dr. Jeff Grange, President and CEO of Symons Ambulance. When asked about the delinquent payments to Bishop, Dr. Grange said he has been out of the country and needed more information before he could comment. We placed a call to Judd Symons. He did not return our call.

Two days later, Dawn Downs of Symons Ambulance emailed to Sierra Wave Media a brief response to the Bishop Police press release. It is one paragraph and available, along with the Bishop press release, at the end of this story. The Symons ambulance response, signed by Judd Symons, did not answer why payments have not been made nor a contract negotiated. The statement did say that the company has its own dispatch center in San Bernardino but had an agreement in Bishop for such services and has been renegotiating the contract. The statement claims it has insurance reimbursement problems but says they will continue to provide service in Bishop. It was unstated if Symons will pay the City or what dispatch services they will use.

The Police Department has continued to provide dispatch services in spite of non-payment and an un-renewed contract. The Bishop press release says Symons Ambulance had asked the City to reduce their charges, “citing low reimbursement rates and financial difficulties.” The release says Chief Carter brought this request along with proposed contract changes to the City Council in October. The release says, “At that time the City Council was willing to consider the requested changes, however also asked that Symons produce a financial statement verifying the need to reduce the amount the City charges Symons for providing this service.” At news time, Symons had not provided that documentation.

In spite of repeated requests to bring their account current, Symons has failed to pay the City since February and owes $13,000. The press release says initially, Symons Ambulance officials found the terms of the dispatch contract to be “reasonable and fair”. The release says, “While the City of Bishop recognizes and appreciates the valuable service to the public that Symons provides, we cannot ignore the fact that Symons is a private, for-profit business. As such, they are not entitled to have their operation funded with taxpayer monies.”

The press release says all of this does not mean that Symons will cease operations in Bishop. The Police Department, however, would not be responsible for dispatching ambulances to where they are needed. That responsibility would fall on Symons to determine.

The final paragraph of the Police Department press release says that “Chief Carter and the City of Bishop have gone to extraordinary measures in attempts to work with Symons in order to settle the matter and continue to assist Symons in providing services to our citizens. Unfortunately,” says the City, “it appears that an agreement will not be forthcoming.”


City Council to Consider Termination of Dispatch Service to Symons

Emergency Specialties (Ambulance)

At the regularly scheduled City Council Meeting of December 9, 2013, Chief Chris Carter of the Bishop Police Department will ask the Bishop City Council to consider discontinuing providing dispatch service to Symons Emergency Specialties (Ambulance), effective January 1, 2014.  This request from Chief Carter comes after several months of negotiations with Symons in an attempt to renew an existing contract.

In July of 2012, Symons Ambulance and the City of Bishop entered into a contract whereby the Police Department would dispatch Symons ambulances throughout the greater Bishop area.

That contract expired in July of 2013 and the Police Department has continued to provide dispatching of ambulances while attempts to renegotiate the contract were ongoing.   During the negotiations process Symons Emergency Specialties, which is based out of San Bernardino, had made a request for the City to reduce their charges, citing low reimbursement rates and financial difficulties.  Chief Carter brought this request along with other proposed changes to the contract before the Bishop City Council in October.  At that time the City Council was willing to consider the requested changes, however also asked that Symons produce a financial statement verifying the need to reduce the amount the City charges Symons for providing this service.

As of today, Symons Emergency Specialties has not responded to the City’s request to provide documentation of financial hardship.  Additionally, Symons owes the City approximately $13,000 and has not remitted payment for services to the City of Bishop since February of 2013, despite repeated requests that they attempt to bring their account into balance.

When the contract was originally constructed, a representative of Symons met with Chief Carter and City Administrator Keith Caldwell.  The terms and conditions of the contract were determined to be reasonable and fair and thereafter agreed to by all parties.  While the City of Bishop recognizes and appreciates the valuable service to the public that Symons provides, we cannot ignore the fact that Symons is a private, for-profit business.  As such, they are not entitled to have their operation funded with tax payer monies.  Even where one Government Agency is providing similar service to another, the costs for those services must be covered.  Currently the Town of Mammoth Lakes Police Department contracts with Mono County for law enforcement dispatching services.  The Town of Mammoth Lakes is contractually obligated to pay Mono County for this service.

This does not mean that Symons will cease operations and there will be no ambulance service, it only means that the Bishop Police Department will not be responsible for dispatching ambulances to where they are needed.  This responsibility will now fall back upon Symons and they will determine how best to accomplish this task.

Chief Carter and the City of Bishop have gone to extraordinary measures in attempts to work with Symons in order to settle the matter and continue to assist Symons in providing service to our citizens.  Unfortunately, it appears that an agreement will not be forthcoming.  Should the Bishop City Council agree to Chief Carter’s request, the Police Department will discontinue service effective January 1, 2014.


Symons Ambulance remains committed to providing the residents of Bishop with the highest quality ambulance service.   Symons Ambulance has it own dispatch center in San Bernardino, however, in order to provide better service to the local community, Symons had an agreement with the Bishop Police Department for dispatch services.  Due to increasingly decreased reimbursements for emergency services, Symons has been in the process of renegotiating the dispatch contract and already made the first payment for services rendered.   The residents of Bishop can continue to rely upon Symons Ambulance to provide them with timely, compassionate, high quality medical care.

Judd Symons




21 Responses to City of Bishop struggles with Symons Ambulance non-payment for dispatch service

  1. Desert Tortoise December 2, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    There is no contract, it expired. The two parties cannot come to terms on a new contract and the contractor owes the city money. The solution is simple. Contract with another ambulance service provider like AMR (just an example), and take Symons to court to get the money Bishop is owed. It’s business, nothing personal.

  2. Healthy Options December 2, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    It’s not personal until YOU need the ambulance!

    YOU try owning, maintaining, training and housing this service 24-7-365.

    How the hell can a Police Department discontinue service? They are here for Public SAFETY.

    OH, I forgot they seem to only be here for the retirement and benefits.

    Bishop should thank it’s lucky stars that Symons is willing to stay without a contract.

    Forgive the debt, thank them and offer them what ever they need to help protect our community and the Public Safety.

    • Desert Tortoise December 2, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

      Ambulance services are a racket. Don’t kid yourself they are in it as a public service. Find out what an ambulance service charges. We recently had a drunk driver back out of his driveway, back across the street, up the curb, across a yard and into the bedroom of the house across the street. He pinned an 11 yo kid to their bed.

      As it turns out the kid had a couple of scratches and nothing more. An ambulance was called and the ride was less than six miles to the ER. There was no need for the ambulance crew to pump drugs, defibrolate or anything else. It was a precautionary ride to the ER to check the kid out, an ambulance called to the scene by the local police.

      Total price for a six mile ambulance ride? $5000. The parents of the kid cannot afford it, they are low income working stiffs. The drunk who caused the problems cannot afford to pay it. Who pays? And why is this so costly. $5000. Think about that.

      The owner of the ambulance service cries poor and pays his employees poorly, yet he just finished building the biggest house in town, right behind the ambulance service offices and shops.

      Now think about all the traffic accidents, heart attacks, strokes, burns, and the like that happen every day where an ambulance is called. Even if it is only $1000 per trip, that is an expensive taxi service. The number of times an ambulance crew has to do any real life saving is pretty minimal. This is a big money making proposition. Don’t be naïve.

      • TS December 4, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

        A racket indeed. My wife was ‘talked into’ getting an ambulance ride for a hospital transfer for a minor event. I told her not to do it, and that I would drive her, but she said it was explained to her by hospital staff that it was ‘required’. So Symons picks her up and TAXIS her, without ANY meds or help, to another hospital. The bill? $3,600. I’m still fighting it almost 2 years later.

        No wonder our health care system is in shambles. Rampant abuse and fraud by medical providers, perpetuated by our insurance system. Makes me sick.

      • Really? December 6, 2013 at 8:50 am #

        First, let’s differentiate the operational service from the professionals that perform the service. When the ambulance is called the paramedic and the EMT respond to help. They deliver that help with the guidance of protocols that they must follow. They have zero control, and probably don’t even know, what the charge associated with each procedure costs. So, insinuating that the crew that responded in the case of a car pinning a child was inappropriate is unfounded and demonstrates your lack of knowledge of how the system works. Fortunately, the child was ok. It could have been much worse. The mechanism of injury in and of itself dictates, by protocol, advanced life support services. And if that child had been the victim of major blunt trauma I am positive the hard working parents ( I will refrain from insulting them by calling them “stiffs”) would have been grateful to see the paramedic and EMT arrive to deliver that potential early life saving field care.
        I challenge your uneducated statements. You write as if you know the call volume in Bishop. So, tell me, what is an average day like for a crew? And what is the percentage of actual reimbursed calls? It’s people that think like you and use the ambulance as a “taxi service”that drive costs up.
        Do some research about the EMS profession and those that show up for duty every day. They are there 24/7 365, no matter what. Often missing holidays, special occasions, etc. and it doesn’t matter who dispatches them, they still show up. So, don’t kid yourself, it is a public service calling. And believe me, if you are the person having the stroke, heart attack, or is the victim of a traffic accident you are glad to see them.

        And tell me, where you get off making blanket statements about “real life saving?” Unless you’ve walked the walk you don’t get to talk the talk.
        And as demonstrated by the way you spell “defibrillate” I am guessing you’ve never been there.

      • SSturtevant December 21, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

        Desert Tortoise,
        Gotta say that the ambulance industry on a whole is NOT a racket… However, there is a considerable amount of racketeering-like behavior. But I’ve worked with the folks at Symons, and they’re honorable people.

        I’ve personally worked in the industry for 37 years, and can say that there are many companies out there that would sell their mother to a nursing home if that would bring them another penny closer to a $1,000,000, but not Judd Symon, nor Jeff Grange.

        There was a time in this country when you could very easily make a million buck owning an ambulance company, but reimbursements have dried up in the wake of so many foreign nationals who have migrated to this country and found that starting an ambulance company was a way to fast money. Look at LA County, over 100 ambulance companies were operating illegally, while one longtime legitimate operator has had to close his doors after more than 20 years, because of unfair competition within the market and a lack of enforcement.

        In a town like Bishop, it’s very remote and somewhat isolated from any major city. Not a bad thing… people like the rural lifestyle! However, most ambulance companies in areas such as yours, have to run 24 hour crews. The run a stationary or stagnant system, because they stay in the station when there are no calls going on. So they operate more like fire departments. This business model is the most inefficient model, but it is necessary to the community because there must be a 24 hour service presence, and not a lot of additional business to be had running inter-facility transfers between hospitals and nursing homes. So, it makes better sense to staff like that in rural areas. BUT IT IS MORE EXPENSIVE, and that’s why the fees are so much higher. They have to pay the labor whether they’re running or not.

        Now in your job as a fry-cook, I’m sure you’ve seen the waitress get sent home early because there are no customers, right? well we can’t do that in the ambulance business. I mean, what if you called 911, and nobody came??? THINK about it before you speak. A whole lot of variables to be taken into consideration.

        Yes, there are crooks in this industry. At times, it can seem very dark and sinister. But, not where you live. These are people with integrity.

        Good Luck Citizens of Bishop. It will all work out, please be patient.

  3. Mark December 2, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Bishop P.D. should have never got into the ambulance dispatching business in the first place. That’s something that clearly could be handled in the private sector.

    I suggest Symons Ambulance use digital 395 resources and dispatch Eastern Sierra ambulances via voip/two way radio technology from their office in San Bernardino.

    The equipment could be hosted in a local business that already has 24 hour employees such as the alarm company on Main street just South of Line. In the event of a network failure the local alarm company could dispatch ambulances.

    all this for a lot less then $13k every few months.

    • Benett Kessler December 2, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

      It’s more like $1400 per month. They have not paid since last February.

    • Desert Tortoise December 2, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

      Police impounds are typically handled by several tow truck companies. They are put on a rotation where each time a new tow job comes up, the next company in line is called. Each gets it’s turn. The dispatching of ambulances could be handled in a similar manner, divvying the work up to more than one company.

      A benefit of this would be to attract more ambulance services to the area, improving employee pay (no longer a one shop town) and performance.

  4. WOW December 2, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    Inyo County Ambulance sounds good.

  5. NewDay December 2, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    This issue was a centerpiece of Jeff Griffith’s platform for election to the Board of Supervisors. I suspect (hope!) he’s working on the county taking it over. The service is too valuable to lose locally. Dispatch out of San Bernardino? They would have no local knowledge of our streets, businesses, or distances except what MapQuest tells them. It’s bad enough trying to get warranty service from someone who thinks Fresno is “only” 40 miles away.

    • Mark December 3, 2013 at 9:51 am #

      You might have a point about local knowledge, I forget not everyone knows Inyo/Mono County as well as me

      I have no use for anyone that can’t find an address when given one

    • Mark December 3, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

      No where in history has government accomplished the same thing as private sector business for less money. If you want Inyo County to run the ambulances it’s going to cost you more then it is now.

      • Ken Warner December 3, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

        Ever see the Hoover Dam? Three Gorges Dam? Ever hear of the Manhattan Project? LA Aqueduct?

        How about our interstate highway system? Medicare — the most efficient heath insurance agency in the country? University of California?

        But why do I bother?

      • Desert Tortoise December 3, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

        That is not true. I am an economist by trade and make a living determining what things cost the government. I can tell you with authority that government owned depots and government scientists and engineers can perform work for much lower cost than their private sector counterparts. Burdened labor rates, meaning gross wages, benefits, overhead and administration costs, for private software coders can run as high as $300 per hour, even higher for certain specialties, while burdened labor for an equally trained and experienced experienced government employee doing the same work with the same skills costs $200 per hour or less.

        For aircraft repair and overhaul, government depots always undercut their private sector counterparts for cost and have a higher quality product. Private firms do not reward customer satisfaction. Study what CEO’s are renumerated for. Their pay depends in large part on stock price, book value of the company and shareholder return. Almost none of their compensation depends on customer satisfaction or adherence to contract schedules. In fact, in most cases not performing to contract has beneficial financial effects, as the customers is depending on whatever the firm is developing, and if there is a delay half way into the process, the customer will generally pay the price for the original contractor fo finish the job rather than fire them and start from scratch with a new contractor, wasting what was already spent in terms of time and money in the process. There is a perverse incentive for private firms to drag contracts out rather than complete ahead of schedule and under budget. Good work does not pay, and CEOs are not rewarded for doing good work. The same is not true of government depots or government labs where deadlines actually mean something and pay rates are much lower than their private industry counterparts.

      • TBone December 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

        No where in history, except a few small areas, e.g. railways, health care, and prisons.

      • Bemused December 3, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

        And the asinine comment of the day award goes to…

  6. Frank December 3, 2013 at 3:19 am #

    Believe me, it serves this city and county no service to chase down private industry for money to fund tax payer services. The 911 dispatch system is required and funded. Even if Symons dispatched their own calls, they have to come through a public entities system. It’s unnecessary redundancy to have services duplicated. Either the city or county needs to step up and do their part. I’m quite sure the other departments in the county outside of the Bishop area pay nothing for the same service. This is not too much to ask for out of our public safety agencies. And, if you think a large corporation like AMR could do a better job in a small town, with small community needs, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    • Benett Kessler December 3, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      We will note that the Bishop press release, which is posted on our website, does point out that the Mammoth Police Department pays Mono County for dispatch services.
      Benett Kessler

    • Desert Tortoise December 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

      Ridgecrest PD operates it’s own dispatch separate from that of Kern County or CHP, and pays Kern County an annual fee to use a part of their radio network to communicate with their police vehicles and officers.

  7. Frank December 5, 2013 at 12:47 am #

    So we are to compare the transfer of government funds from one entity to another with this? The Public Service Access point (911) has a duty to act and assist with ambulance service. Either way, the call information has to be passed along. Why put too many hurdles in there? That will delay care. If this was a much bigger system, perhaps I would agree with the fee, but it’s not. So being this is Inyo county and people want to draw comparisons, what does Olancha, Lone Pine, Independence and Big Pine get charged?? How about Bishop Fire? If Symons is going to get charged, then perhaps we should level the playing field. This is Inyo county, not Kern or Mono. Our system needs to work for us. This is about lives, you and your families lives. Tax money that we pay ( and we pay a lot) should cover the basic needs of the 911 system.


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