It’s been one battle after another for Monterey County Emergency Medical System Chief Michael Petrie since he took over the EMS Agency in September 2016. He’s gone head to head with fire chiefs, union presidents, the county’s current ambulance provider and others, culminating this year in the biggest fight over a new contract for ambulance services.
Petrie failed to secure a new contract after the deadline for bids passed on May 10. Only current provider American Medical Response submitted a bid, which less than two weeks later was rejected as too costly, meaning Petrie and his agency will have to start all over again.
The agency will eventually launch another bidding process, but not with Petrie. He announced his retirement in a letter dated Oct. 1, addressed to “esteemed colleagues and friends.” His last day with the county is Nov. 15, according to county spokesperson Karen Smith.
A search for a new director will begin soon, says Smith. In the meantime, Teresa Rios, a management analyst who worked with Petrie, is acting EMS director.
“This is not an easy decision for me because many of California’s EMS systems are in states of transition and the potential threats to patients and the public have never been greater,” Petrie writes in his letter.
Petrie contends that the policies and standards adhered to by emergency response agencies, mainly fire departments and paramedics, are based on long held practices, such as going “lights and sirens,” to many emergency calls, staffing all ambulances or fire trucks—depending on the agency—with paramedics, among others.
He’s also made no friends through actions like launching investigations into paramedic training certificates, like he did with the Salinas Fire Department and later, county paramedics, in 2018. One union president blasted the move to investigate Salinas paramedics as a “political attack.”
The tense relations between Petrie and fire agencies around the county went from simmering to boiling over this year, after Petrie opened the bidding process on the new contract for an ambulance provider. Soon after the request for proposals was released in January, a fierce political fight was on.
Critics blasted proposed changes to the county’s emergency medical system outlined in the RFP that would put less emphasis on paramedics and possibly decrease the number of ambulance trips by fire agencies, meaning less revenue flowing from insurance and private reimbursements. Petrie contended he was bringing the county’s system “into the 21st Century,” improving patient care and keeping costs down.
Critics, however, said those new standards Petrie was attempting to put in place were too difficult and costly for private ambulance companies to manage.
In the end, only one provider bid out of a possible total of seven, current provider AMR, by the deadline. About two weeks later, Petrie announced the bid was too costly and it was rejected. An effort to create a new RFP is in the works, but no dates have been announced. Smith says Petrie’s retirement will not slow down the process carried on by EMS Agency staff.
Asked whether the current contract with AMR, set to expire at the end of January, will be extended, Smith says, "We are actively examining our options."
After a 40-year career that started with working as an emergency medical technician, then as a paramedic and later in management, Petrie’s plans include caring for his 95-year-old father, exploring other areas of service and hobbies like photography, flying as a private pilot and rescuing basset hounds, according to his letter. He also wants to write a book “about the realities of EMS.”
Petrie praised those “who zealously advocate for the public and the patient above all else,” but took a veiled swipe at his detractors.
“Conversely, those who give less than their best, who embrace ‘good enough’ and who fear advocating for the public and patient because ‘politicians and their supporters won’t like it’ should remember for whom they ultimately work," he said.
Editor's Note: This post was updated to reflect new information from the Monterey County Department of Health.