Sunday, July 22, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas County ambulance service Sunstar is for sale

The Texas company that provides ambulances across Pinellas County announced Thursday that it will sell the service.

The move comes less than two years after Paramedics Plus, the parent company of Sunstar Paramedics, renewed a contract with Pinellas County in 2015. The firm has provided ambulance services in Pinellas County since at least 2004.

Paramedics Plus announced they are seeking a "strategic" buyer and have engaged an investment banking firm to assist in the process, according to an email sent to the Pinellas County's Emergency Medical Services Authority. That group consists of 24 citizens, elected officials, administrators and first responders.

Craig Hare, the Pinellas EMS and fire administration director, told the group the sale is expected to take about six months. An "assignment clause" in the agreement ensures that Pinellas County has the opportunity to examine the prospective buyer as part of its due diligence, Hare said.

This would not be the first time that the parent company of Pinellas County's provider has changed hands. Assistant County Administrator John Bennett said he doesn't anticipate any changes to the service and stressed the county has the power to find a new provider if the potential buyer doesn't meet county requirements.

Korey Ketchum, president of a local paramedics' union, told members on a Facebook page that the company "will continue to maintain service as normal" and that the union will keep a line of communication open to help members.

Last week, Pinellas County agreed to pay $92,700 toward a federal lawsuit regarding ambulance-service kickbacks in Texas, California and Oklahoma. The 2014 federal whistleblower lawsuit alleged that the Pinellas County's EMS Authority received improper payments from Paramedics Plus. The county denied the allegation.

The suit, brought by former company executive Stephen Dean, said the payments came from money Paramedics Plus collected from government health care programs that paid for services for the poor. As a result of that contract clause, Sunstar made a one-time payment of $35,600 to a Pinellas County EMS account in 2014. The county eliminated the provision in its 2015 contract.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente

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