Summit County government and the Red, White & Blue Fire District are collaborating on a new agreement that would strengthen the two agencies’ existing partnership in providing ambulance services in the county.
The agreement would make for better use of existing resources, improved customer service and reduced operating costs, according to a Summit County news release.
Under the agreement, Red, White & Blue would be the first agency to respond to 911 calls for ambulance service in its district, which covers 140 square miles between Hoosier Pass and the Frisco town limits. Summit County Ambulance Service would assume simultaneous and second-call coverage inside the district, the release stated.
Currently, SCAS has first-call status throughout all of Summit County, including in the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District.
The change, which will be phased in gradually throughout the spring, would take better advantage of equipment and personnel at the fire district, while reducing demands on SCAS.
SCAS would retain first-call status in all areas of Summit County outside the Red, White & Blue district.
SCAS also would continue to assume primary ambulance service for patient transports between medical facilities, including from Breckenridge Community Clinic Emergency Center to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, and continue to provide all out-of-county transports.
“As operating costs for emergency medical services continue to climb, it’s our job to seek out ways to operate more efficiently, while maintaining excellent service,” County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said in the release. “Through this new agreement, we’re taking a meaningful step toward addressing the considerable financial strains faced by SCAS.”
As the second-call agency in the greater Breckenridge area, the Red, White & Blue Fire District has found its ambulance and paramedics to be underused, the release stated. By moving to first-call status, the district would be better able to make full use of its resources and simultaneously reduce SCAS operating costs. The move also has the potential to reduce ambulance response times, as a higher proportion of calls from within the district would be addressed by the Breckenridge-based Red, White & Blue ambulance.
“By adding another 24-7-365 ambulance into the EMS system, this enhanced partnership with SCAS is going to allow us to do a better job serving the residents and visitors in our district,” Red, White & Blue fire chief Jim Keating said in the release. “And together, we’re being better stewards of public resources for the county as a whole.”
SCAS provides countywide ambulance service, offering transport to medical facilities, critical care, first-responder services, search-and-rescue paramedic response and communitywide injury-prevention programs. Prior to 2005, SCAS fee-based revenues reliably covered the service’s expenses, the release stated.
However, with the 2005 opening of St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, a significantly greater depth and breadth of medical services became available locally, and out-of-county patient transports dropped off, thereby reducing revenue to the ambulance system. The economic recession, increases in operating costs, limited federal reimbursement rates and declining collection rates from patients have compounded SCAS’ financial challenges, the release stated.
Between 2011 and 2013, SCAS deficits averaged more than $460,000 annually; the gap is projected to grow to more than $1 million per year in the next four years. In response, Summit County has been using general fund dollars to subsidize SCAS operations since 2012.
However, because of the recent declines in assessed property values, and the TABOR Amendment’s prohibition on mill levy increases to retain revenue levels, Summit County’s property tax revenues have dropped substantially in recent years, according to the release.
“Continued subsidization of emergency services by the county’s general fund is simply not sustainable under TABOR’s current economic straightjacket,” County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said in the release. “Something has got to change and change soon, even with the enhanced cooperation between our agencies and the resulting cost savings we expect to achieve.”
While the new agreement between the county and Red, White & Blue would ameliorate SCAS financial deficits, it would not erase them altogether.
“In regard to the financial sustainability of our public ambulance services, this agreement certainly stands to help, but it doesn’t fix the problem,” County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “We still have work to do when it comes to identifying long-term financial solutions to maintaining our current standards of high-quality care and service.”
In addition to its partnership with Red, White & Blue, SCAS works cooperatively with Lake Dillon Fire Protection District and Copper Mountain Fire Department on activities such as training, quality improvement, wildland disaster preparedness, grants, crew housing and a two-tiered response to medical emergencies.
“LDFPD looks forward to future discussions aimed at furthering our collaborations to advance the effective and efficient utilization of EMS resources provided by SCAS and the county’s fire districts,” Lake Dillon Fire Protection District Chief Dave Parmley said.
“By adding another 24-7-365 ambulance into the EMS system, this enhanced partnership with SCAS is going to allow us to do a better job serving the residents and visitors in our district.”
Chief, Red, White & Blue Fire District