When state ambulance inspectors found problems such as expired medicine and outdated equipment in 2004 at American Medical Response, officials with Multnomah County's sole ambulance-service contractor were unapologetic.

Randy Lauer, the company's general manager in Oregon, blamed the state instead. "It was a very sloppy inspection," he told WW in 2004 (see Rogue of the Week, Sept. 8, 2004).

Lauer and AMR's shareholders may not have to worry about embarrassing surprise inspections any longer. That's because this week's Rogue, the state Department of Human Services, has rewritten the rules to allow private, industry-funded groups to inspect ambulances with advance notice instead.

The new rules, effective Feb. 1, say an ambulance company can ask the state to have a nationally recognized accrediting group inspect its ambulances. The state can OK that request if the accrediting group's requirements meet or exceed Oregon rules.

The main industry group is the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services. The Glenview, Ill.,-based commission informs companies ahead of its on-the-spot inspections, and charges up to $10,000 to accredit a company.

AMR's Lauer says CAAS inspections are "1,000 times more thorough" than the state's and didn't suggest the rules change.

AMR and other ambulance companies say the state has too few staff and resources to inspect every ambulance. Grant Higginson, who heads the state office that oversees ambulance inspections, says the change was just the sort of "regulatory streamlining" the Legislature likes. He says the state will still inspect ambulances if there's a public complaint or other problem but does not see the change as contentious.

Larry Boxman, vice president for operations at MetroWest ambulance in Hillsboro, says the new rules could let companies get sloppy between inspections that are announced in advance.

Says Boxman, "I think oversight by the state is a good thing regardless of what other inspection agencies we have."

—James Pitkin