There’s a crisis of transparency in ambulance services in Georgia, where lax standards allow private providers to profiteer off of patients and taxpayers at the expense of good government.

Seconds and skill matter in medical emergencies, but here in Georgia a handful of well-connected private companies and bureaucrats have created a culture of sluggish response times and dangerously outmoded equipment.

It’s the result of decades of bureaucratic indifference and increasingly audacious abuses of the system by private companies. Curiously, the oversight of trash collection in this state is more robust than in the delivery of emergency medical services.

The Georgia Department of Public Health loosely administers the delivery of emergency medical services throughout the state, but the agency pointedly does not operate them. Instead, the state has been carved into ten health districts for which un-elected councils are empowered to select private, for-profit ambulance providers.

Now the problem: because state law does not restrict vendors from serving on health district councils or subcommittees, these favored private providers can abuse their influence to install themselves and dismiss their competitors.

The shameful transactional bartering that ethics advocates fought so hard in recent years to eliminate under the Gold Dome has found safe harbor in public health. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been contributed by private providers in the interest of maintaining the status quo in the state, which is among only a small handful in the nation that doesn’t compel private providers to submit to safety reviews or meet national standards and best practices.

That lack of regulated uniformity means unequal (and often substandard) levels of service in various communities across the state. In some cases, unfortunately, it also means the taxpayer is being taken advantage of.

The Georgia Ambulance Transparency Project believes our state and your family deserve better. But what does better look like, and how do we get there? It requires re-balancing a fair and competitive marketplace that for so-long has been tilted in the favor of the well-connected.

Specifically, the state legislature must act to: ban ambulance vendors from serving on Department of Public Health hiring councils and subcommittees; require vendors to register with the state ethics commission; require mandatory service provider reviews to ensure safety; and establish statewide standards in keeping with national best practices that all providers, no matter their location, must meet.

These are common sense protections that a majority of the country already requires, and it’s silly that the grassroots should even need to mobilize to fight for them.

Transparency is never the enemy, but the public’s ability to understand why and how private vendors are selected is often foiled. We want to shine a light on the process and people.

Reforming the selection and delivery of emergency medical services in Georgia isn’t a campaign to punish those who’ve previously dominated the landscape. It’s not about ax-grinding or political agendas. It’s about protecting the taxpayer and restoring fairness and transparency to servants of public health.

Julianne Thompson, an activist-leader known for her work on ethics reform, serves as a spokesperson for the Georgia Ambulance Transparency Project, a new grassroots initiative to fight the corporate cronyism that influences emergency medical service selection throughout the state.

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