A temporary solution to help maintain ambulance services here in the Wet Mountain Valley has been reached by the board of directors of the West Custer County Hospital District.
At the board meeting last Thursday, April 10, directors unanimously approved a measure to pay members of the Emergency Medical Services team as employees effective this past Monday, April 14.
Under the plan, the EMS workers will receive $8 per hour, with two workers on call from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. That’s when roughly 70 percent of all ambulance calls are received.
Calls during the night period will be handled by the EMS personnel who are on call but not paid for being on call. When they respond to a call, they will be paid for the time actually devoted to the call.
There are currently 14 part-time EMS personnel. The EMS administrator is Ellie Czarnota.
The viability of local ambulance services was placed in jeopardy in December 2013, when the Colorado Department of Labor questioned the local Hospital District’s seven-year practice of treating EMS personnel as independent contractors. As a result, the Hospital District is forced to pay some $38,000 in back wages and taxes to EMS workers. Those payments must be made by June 21 of this year, according to the DOL’s ruling.
While that $38,000 figure will pose a financial hit on the struggling Hospital District, that amount is considerably less than the $100,000 to $180,000 payment the Hospital District was potentially anticipating.
Hospital District chairman Joe Arbuckle said this is a short-term solution to the ambulance service problems, and that the board will continue to seek a long-term solution in conjunction with the fire district.
Among the options being considered are establishing a new special taxation ambulance district to solely fund ambulance services, and to work with the Wet Mountain Valley Fire Protection District to have that organization take over ambulance services as is done in many Colorado rural communities.
“There are pitfalls with both scenarios, “ Arbuckle stated.
Regarding the establishment of a special district, it would be costly to arrange an election to seek voter approval, and there’s no guarantee of voter support. Additionally, it would take many months, possibly as much as two years, before property tax revenues would be funneled to the new district.
And establishing a relationship with the Fire District would be relatively easy, but the idea is not wholly supported by the Fire District’s elected board of directors. One distinct advantage to the Fire District proposal is that Fire Districts are not subject to the same Department of Labor regulations that affect the Hospital District; Fire Districts may utilize volunteer workers more freely.
The fire and hospital districts will be seeking public input on these options.
EMS administrator Czarnota told the board that ambulance workers responded to 21 calls in March. In 2013, there were 330 calls for an ambulance resulting in 235 transports.
She also said a training course for basic EMS will be offered here beginning on May 19.
Czarnota said a fund-raising event will be held on Saturday, June 14 and there will be a silent auction, tours of a Flight for Life helicopter, a performance by the Pueblo Fire Department band, and other activities.
In his report, clinic administrator Delwin Lester said patient visits are currently averaging around 31 per day, compared to approximately 20 a day a year ago. Year-to-date numbers show 2,105 patient visits this year, compared to 1,719 a year ago.
“We’re off to a wonderful start, and we’re hearing lots of great things,” said Lester.