SWEETWATER COUNTY — The Sweetwater County Commission unanimously approved an additional $235,000 in funding to Sweetwater Medics during Tuesday’s Commission meeting.
Sweetwater Medics receives a $77,623 monthly subsidy, which totals over $931,476 for the length of the contract. The current contract runs from July 2021 through June 2022. That brings the total contract price to $1,009,099.
Ron Gatti, Director of Sweetwater Medics, explained that due to changes in revenue sources, they would not be able to serve the county past December. He said the contract wouldn’t cover all expenses through the end of June 2022.
“We wouldn’t have the money to continue,” Gatti said.
The change in revenue sources, according to Gatti, occurred when Castle Rock Ambulance Service took over ground transports for Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County (MHSC). These include long distance ground transports from MHSC to other hospitals, he said.
“With Castle Rock taking over the ground transports for Memorial Hospital, that has changed the availability of revenue sources for Sweetwater Medics,” Gatti said.
He said that revenues from those transports has historically helped them pay for 911 services. He said last year those transports brought in just over $475,000 to Sweetwater Medics, with a profit margin of just over $380,000.
“In order for us to get very close to a balanced point, plus or minus $50,000 to $60,000, we felt that we needed to come to you and request an additonal $235,000 to be approved for us to continue through the next six months,” Gatti said.
He said that the $235,000 would allow them to break even, and make a slight profit, which he explained is a reasonable desire for a private business.
“The county and Sweetwater Medics have a vendor relationship. We’re not a government agency, we must make money, and no vendor that you deal with has an obligation to operate in the red to provide goods and services to the county. I think we’d all agree with that,” Gatti said.
Commissioner Jeff Smith expressed his agreement with Gatti, pointing out that they often approve change orders for projects done by private construction companies.
“We Have to Have Ambulance”
Commissioner Roy Lloyd expressed his discomfort with the request, given the amount of the request and that it was presented under short notice. However, he noted that the service is needed.
“I don’t know how I feel about the extra request but I almost feel like I don’t have a choice,” Lloyd said. “I am bound to make sure our citizens have an EMS system at this point and I really am not sure if I totally agree with this, but I also do agree that we need ambulance service.”
Gatti apologized for the short notice, but said that he was waiting for the outcome of the general purpose tax initiative that voters shot down earlier this month.
Commissioner Lauren Schoenfeld stated her support for funding ambulance services as they work on finding short and long term solutions in the meantime.
“I have a mother at home who is in her 70s who is worried about whether she’s going to have access to ambulance if she needs to call 911, and that’s not a situation we should put our community in at all. And we already have done that once so I think that we know the model doesn’t work, we know we need to fix it, we have to have ambulance in the meantime,” Schoenfeld said.
Not only is the county looking for help with funding ambulance service, but Gatti said Sweetwater Medics cannot collect more than what insurance companies are willing to pay. He said that Blue Cross Blue Shield, Medicare, and Medicaid will not pay the full price for ambulance services so Sweetwater Medics must accept whatever they do pay.
“It doesn’t matter what you bill… you’re only going to get whatever the third party has decided it’s going to be,” Gatti said.
Gatti hopes that eventually the county will have an intergovernmental ambulance service, but until then, they are having to accept the “unfair reimbursements” from insurance companies.
Castle Rock Addresses Air Med Rumor
Castle Rock Ambulance Service gave an update of their services to the Commission, in which Commissioner Schoenfeld asked them to address a rumor that had been circulating regarding Utah Air Med.
According to Schoenfeld, she had heard that Utah Air Med wanted to come into Sweetwater County and offer ambulance services, but Castle Rock didn’t want to be part of that conversation.
Bailie Dockter, Director of Castle Rock Hospital District, said that when Utah Air Med reached out to them, they asked if Castle Rock would be interested in selling their ambulance service.
Dockter explained that they were currently in talks of getting the ground transports for MHSC and were sorting out their budget, and that Utah Air Med’s offer to buy the ambulance service from them was a “soft request.”
“At that point we were really just gearing up,” Dockter said. “Hiring staff, retaining people, in the nature of trying to focus on getting more people on ambulance service.”
She added that six of 30 employees in their ambulance services left this past year for various reasons, one of the primary reasons being the instability in ambulance service in the county.
Gatti also mentioned Utah Air Med, saying that though it was unfortunate it didn’t work out, he believes solutions are on the horizon.
“Although we were disappointed that the University of Utah thing didn’t pan out… it seems like the attitudes are really changing in a more positive way. I think we’re on the verge of a new structure, I think sooner rather than later,” Gatti said.