Gary Martinez: Taxpayers deserve collaboration on ambulance services (column)
May 20, 2017
As a Breckenridge taxpayer and former public servant, I was extremely disappointed to read about Red, White & Blue Fire District's reluctance to meaningfully collaborate with other local agencies in the provision of ambulance services in Summit County. In a community of our size, it is imperative that public-sector organizations work together in a variety of capacities to best serve public health and safety. That was certainly one of my top goals in my decades of past public service, both as Breckenridge town manager and as Summit County manager.
Many Summit Daily News readers are likely familiar with the financial challenges facing Summit County Ambulance Service, challenges not unlike those faced by many rural ambulance services across the country.
Unfortunately, the service does not receive payment for every bill it sends out, and payments from patients on Medicare and Medicaid don't come close to covering the costs of care and transport. In 2014, Summit County garnered local voter approval for temporary financial support of the ambulance service, with the promise that we would work with local fire districts to identify opportunities for collaboration, in order to identify and implement cost savings, while maintaining the same high standard of patient care.
Like the ambulance service, the fire districts all perform emergency medical services, have personnel with exceptional emergency medical skills, and own emergency medical equipment and supplies. Thanks to the excellent work that fire districts across the country have done over the past many decades through the development and enforcement of modern building codes, fire district personnel spend substantially less time than they used to putting out fires. Yet certainly, they must always be at the ready to respond to fires and other emergencies, when they do occur. Given this set of factors, it makes perfect sense for the fire districts to partner with Summit County Ambulance Service. Together, they can identify efficiencies and service improvements through a collaborative approach that makes the best use of existing resources and taxpayer dollars.
Indeed, independent third-party analysis by experts in this field have concluded that, taken together, Summit County Ambulance Service, Lake Dillon Fire, Copper Mountain Fire and Red, White & Blue Fire have more than adequate resources to provide industry-standard response times for all types of calls, including medical emergencies, fires, hazardous materials spills, etc. Recent independent analysis further concluded that our local fire districts' participation in emergency medical response and patient transports even to Denver-area facilities would not interfere with timely responses to fires and other hazards.
Unfortunately, it appears that Red, White & Blue has decided not to come to the table in a meaningful way. District leadership has repeatedly refused to provide the full array of emergency medical services that Summit County residents and visitors expect and deserve. In particular, the district will not fully participate in transporting patients to Denver, leaving Summit County Ambulance Service and the other two fire districts to shoulder disproportionate shares of this taxing and time-consuming work. And even though our emergency response agencies already have adequate resources in the system, Red, White & Blue continues to use taxpayer dollars to add more costly equipment and personnel.
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I applaud Lake Dillon Fire and Copper Mountain Fire for their spirit of collaboration and their stewardship of taxpayer resources. I only hope Red, White & Blue changes course to follow your lead. No one wins if individual jurisdictions operate as their own little islands that is not the Summit County way, at least not in my experience. Our leaders need to be able to look all taxpayers in the eyes and tell them that they are spending their hard-earned money wisely and seeking sound strategies to give them the most bang for their bucks.
Gary Martinez is the former Summit County manager.