No Solutions Yet for County Ambulance Services

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SWEETWATER COUNTY– In a recent ambulance service meeting, Castle Rock Ambulance Services, Sweetwater Medics, and Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County discussed scenarios for providing ambulance services to Sweetwater County heading into the future.

Sweetwater County Commissioner Jeff Smith was in attendance at the meeting and reported back to the board at today’s commissioner meeting.

“Castle Rock and Sweetwater Medics are failing,” Smith said. “Service is great, service is wonderful, we hear that all the time. Financially, they are failing.”

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Castle Rock is losing about $35,000 per month, according to Commissioner Smith. In addition, the County subsidizes about $1.2 million for Sweetwater Medics per year.

Smith said it is simply not sustainable.

When it was reported months ago that MHSC was looking into taking over ambulance services, “many of the comments that were received were, ‘oh the big bad hospital are looking to take over this big money maker and gobble it up’… That’s just not the case,” Smith said.

In fact, the hospital is questioning why they would want the ambulance services, as it is hard to fund and could lose them money.

“Nobody really wants it,” Smith said. “It’s difficult.”

MHSC taking over the services is just one of the solutions being explored.

Possible Solutions

A special tax district was also discussed. However, Smith believes that is not a viable option, saying that special tax districts are easy to lose control of.

Another solution discussed was making ambulance services a department of the county. Once again, however, Smith said this is probably not something they want to do.

Regardless of these options not being the perfect solutions, the agencies are looking into what the hospital would need and what the county would need to take ambulance services over, as well as figuring out what a special tax district would look like.

Smith said the issue comes down to a question of two philosophies: Is it a public good, or is it a pay for use?

He explained that tax dollars are already going to ambulance services, so that makes it a public good. However, many of the taxpayers may never need the service. In Smith’s opinion, the question becomes, how do you find a balance between the two?

Conglomerate Control

Another solution would be to have a large national conglomerate come in and take over services. This would free the agencies up, as well as the county, for funding the services themselves. Smith said the company comes in and says they will provide the services at no charge of the county.

However, this would also relinquish control. The company would then own the ground and the air, and air is very lucrative, according to Smith.

“They could charge insurance $35,000 for a helicopter ride to Salt Lake,” Smith said.

Smith used Fremont County as an example for this type of service. There are helicopters in both Lander and Riverton.

“That’s how lucrative it is for them,” Smith said.

The company is supposed to transfer people to the nearest appropriate hospital, however that decision is made by the company and not the local medical professionals. The company can then choose to bypass the local hospital to tack on more air miles, according to Commissioner Smith.

“The person flying the helicopter can say, ‘oh, they can’t handle them in Riverton, we’re going to fly them to Salt Lake or fly them wherever, and bypass the hospital. More air miles and more money for them,” Smith said.

Smith also said they will sometimes send helicopters for incidents “four miles from Lander” instead of ambulances because Fremont County doesn’t staff the ambulances on Sundays, according to Smith. Therefore, anyone who needs emergency services on Sundays are flown by helicopter.

Johnson said he remembered when Fremont County took over services as a county department, and they started off thinking it was great. Shortly, however, they brought in a conglomerate to take over services, and they still don’t like the state of their ambulance services.

Service Rates May Rise

Currently, Sweetwater Medics’ rates are far under the national average, according to Smith. There are discussions taking place to raise their rates in the coming future. If they do choose to raise rates, it will need to be approved by commission.