SWEETWATER COUNTY — With the long-term solution to county-wide ambulance services still unknown, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County (MHSC) joined the discussion and gave a brief history of ambulance service in the county.
During the intergovernmental meeting last Monday, the county and cities discussed ambulance service once again. However, MHSC was invited to the discussion for the first time.
During the discussion, Irene Richardson, MHSC CEO, went into their history with working with local ambulance services on transfers, and why the hospital is not the ideal home for ambulance services.
History of MHSC and Ambulance Services
Richardson said in March 2017 the hospital and Castle Rock Hospital District had a joint board meeting in which Castle Rock brought up ambulance services. At that time, they did not have a transfer agreement, Richardson said.
“The transfers were alternated between the services,” she said.
Richardson said that Bailie Dockter, Castle Rock Hospital District CEO, claimed Castle Rock was only getting non-pay transfers, meaning they weren’t making any money. Richardson said MHSC proved that wasn’t true.
Shortly after that discussion, Ron Gatti, Sweetwater Medics Director, contacted the hospital and said they would be happy to take over all of the transports. In April 2017 a three-year agreement was signed between MHSC and Sweetwater Medics.
“They would take all the transfers from the hospital,” Richardson said.
She clarified that the hospital did not pay for these services, but rather Sweetwater Medics was paid by the patients or through insurance companies. Richardson said that is always how transfers work from the hospital.
Safe Tech Findings
Richardson went on to explain that a Safe Tech Solutions came in both 2015 and 2019 to do consultant work and look at the county’s local ambulance models. From these studies, the county is then able to pull from the findings to find a sustainable option for the services.
“The findings indicated there may be significant cost savings and greater sustainability in the consolidation of individual ambulance service providers to make the system more sustainable and sustainable for decades to come,” Richardson said.
Beyond the consolidation of ambulance service providers, other solutions included having a fire department take over ambulance services, have one of the existing individual providers take over all services, have a general purpose tax dedicated to funding services, or have the hospital take over services.
However, Richardson said the hospital does not currently have the infrastructure or funding to operate ambulance services.
Following these studies, the county’s ambulance services continued to operate as is, and in April 2020 the transfer agreement between the hospital and Sweetwater Medics was set to expire. At that time, the hospital extended the agreement with Sweetwater Medics for one year.
However, in early 2021 Sweetwater Medics announced they wouldn’t be providing services past March 2021. This prompted Dockter to contact Richardson in which Dockter said Castle Rock would like to take over the transfer agreement.
With the uncertainty over ambulance services in the county, Richardson said the hospital let the contract expire and went into the same contract with Castle Rock. This is currently how ambulance services are operating in the county.
Current Issue and Search for Solutions
Gatti of Sweetwater Medics told the Sweetwater County Commission on November 16 that the loss of the transfers from the hospital has resulted in a revenue loss of about $475,000. At that time, the Commission approved an additional $235,000 in funding to Sweetwater Medics. The extra funding is in addition to the $931,476 yearly subsidy the county provides Sweetwater Medics.
With Sweetwater Medics continuing to need more funding to provide services for the county, ambulance service continues to be an issue with no certain solution. With this uncertainty, many of the public officials have pointed to MHSC taking over ambulance services for the county. However, as Richardson and MHSC Board Chairman Taylor Jones explained, the hospital may not be the best fit.
Not only would the hospital need to buy or build facilities to house the ambulance services, but they would also require the same amount of subsidy the county is already funding Sweetwater Medics and Castle Rock.
The county currently pays just under $1.1 million to Sweetwater Medics, and $250,000 to Castle Rock in yearly subsidies, according to Commissioner Roy Lloyd.
“That does not solve the problem,” Richardson said.
Richardson said they would also have to hire staff, buy the vehicles, and hire consultants to help them figure out how to operate ambulance services. At the top of her head, she said it would cost upwards of $2 million just to start offering ambulance services.
“The only thing we have in common with an ambulance service is, that service brings the sick and injured to our front door,” Jones said.
We can put an ambulance service anywhere we want but what we should be doing is looking at the best place for an ambulance service, not just trying to find a place for it to land.– Taylor Jones, MHSC Board Chairman
Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo said Rock Springs Fire Chief Jim Wamsley figured up some start up costs for ambulance services.
“Start up costs were $3.7 million with an annual budget of about $1.8 million after that. That doesn’t take into consideration what the collection rates would be,” Kaumo said.
Commissioner Jeff Smith said the intergovernmental ambulance committee will continue with its work, with the next step being to identify where they go next and gather recommendations.