Anchorage Health Department announces firing, then un-firing, of contractor that runs 24-hour sleep-off service

A white van parked outside.
An Anchorage Safety Patrol van parked near C Street on Tuesday. The Anchorage Health Department says the contractor Securitas Security Services USA, which runs the vans and associated sleep-off center, has struggled with EMT staffing shortages. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Health Department announced on July 21 it was firing its contractor, Securitas Security Services USA, which runs the city’s 24-hour pick-up and sleep-off service for people incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. A week later, the department said Securitas would stay on.  

Health department spokesperson Michelle Fehribach said Securitas has run the Anchorage Safety Patrol and Anchorage Safety Center for the municipality since 2016. But this year, prolonged staffing issues have caused repeated interruptions to the service that’s supposed to run 24-hours a day. 

“They’ve pretty much been out of compliance for all of 2023. It’s been an ongoing issue that we just haven’t been able to correct,” she said last week about the decision to kill the contract. 

The department’s abrupt decision Friday to un-fire Securitas followed a meeting with local emergency service providers that have helped fill in the gaps when the contractor lapsed, picking up incapacitated people by ambulance and taking them to the emergency room. Anchorage Fire Department Assistant Chief Alex Boyd said he’s happy with the decision.

“The prospect of a complete closure meant that we had to pick up all of those incidents, split between the fire department and the police department,” he said. “And that was a considerably larger number than we’ve seen recently.” 

The fire department and other emergency providers would likely have to, together, pick up about 1,000 more calls a month if the service were completely suspended while a new contractor was hired. 

Securitas is supposed to have at least one driver-EMT duo patrolling Anchorage in a van at all times. The Anchorage Safety Center, a supervised sleep-off space, is also supposed to be open all the time with enough staff to monitor at least 45 people. 

But Fehribach said the van service has repeatedly lapsed. For example, during an Anchorage Assembly committee meeting in May, Securitas District Manager Doug Stewart said for April, there were several days when there was no van service at all, and other days with only partial coverage. 

A recent health department report shows the safety patrol’s monthly intake numbers this year are down by hundreds compared to recent years. 

A chart with Anchorage Safety Center/Patrol intakes through June 2023
This chart from an Anchorage Health Department report shows monthly intakes through June 2023 of the Anchorage Safety Center and Patrol. Intakes are down by hundreds per month compared to recent years.

Citing a company policy, Securitas declined to comment for this story. Its current contract is worth about $2 million a year. 

Fehribach said the EMT shortage that Securitas is dealing with is a wider issue

“So I think there’s a shortage statewide of EMTs,” Fehribach said. “And that a lot of other places, they offer more competitive pay and benefits. And so that’s been, I think, a big challenge for Securitas in keeping people.”

Boyd said his agency is seeing fewer applicants for its EMT positions, but it’s still competitive and not impacting vacancies. 

“I hate to say this, we may be contributing to the challenges that Securitas and other teams are seeing,” he said. “Because our focus is more of a long-term career employment, and theirs tend to be a little bit less career oriented in long-term employment.”

Northern Journal reporter Nat Herz reported in June about the problems with the safety patrol and the contractor’s labor issues.

Boyd said the fire department has 13 ambulance teams ready to go 24/7, but their focus is on emergency care. 

“We applaud the allowance of a little bit more time for us to potentially look at this situation and find a solution before we close up the contract completely,” Boyd said. 

In an email Friday announcing Securitas’ contract would continue, Fehribach said, “The Anchorage Health Department and Securitas will continue to work together to address staffing shortages.”

It’s unclear what level of service Securitas is providing now. After the contract reversal, Fehribach did not return calls seeking more explanation. 

a portrait of a man outside

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him atjhsieh@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremyhere.

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