Merced County's contract with Riggs Ambulance Service will be extended for 12 more months, county supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday.
The amendment will extend the longtime ambulance provider's contract to Aug. 31, 2014, according to county documents.
County officials said the extension is to ensure continuity of services while the county goes through the bidding process for a permanent provider.
"What we did was a necessary formality to be able to provide services in the county," said District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, also chairwoman of the board. "We're actively pursuing getting a permanent provider in the county. When we select a final company, there's a transition period built into the process."
County staff last year recommended awarding the EMS contract to competitor American Medical Response, but the board rejected the recommendation in January and voted to restart the bidding process.
Officials estimate a new "Request for Proposal" for the contract will be released possibly sometime in September.
Kathleen Grassi, Merced County public health director, said the 12-month contract extension has a provision to terminate early if the county completes the bidding process and selects a provider before August 2014.
Another change to the contract is the elimination of the "exclusive operating area" status that guarantees Riggs is the only ambulance company in the county. The county requested an extension to its exclusive status in July, but was denied by the state Emergency Medical Services Authority.
District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo said extending Riggs' contract ensures there's no interruption of service.
"We have to go through the process, but our responsibility is serving the people of Merced County," Pedrozo said. "We'll see what happens, but we don't want to put the county at risk or lives at risk by not having an ambulance."
Riggs Ambulance Service General Manager Steve Melander said the company looks forward to continuing to serve Merced County.
"We're very pleased with the decision," Melander said. "We're looking forward to the opportunity to continue to partner with Merced County to provide emergency medical services for our community."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.