Ambulance ride costs on the rise
December 5, 2005
SUMMIT COUNTY – EMT Josh Kennedy and his partner, paramedic supervisor Jenn Oese were four hours into their 24-hour shift for the Summit County Ambulance Service when loud emergency tones blared through their radios on a recent Tuesday morning.A dispatcher from Summit County Communications described a car accident on Interstate 70 in which a driver traveling approximately 75 to 100 miles per hour lost control of his car near the Eisenhower Tunnel, causing the vehicle to flip several times and throwing the driver from the car.Kennedy and Oese rushed from the Emergency Medical Service’s main building at the County Commons, prepared to respond to a potentially life-threatening accident.”With something like that, you’re definitely thinking the worst,” Kennedy said as he hurried into the ambulance’s driver seat. Because the dispatcher confirmed the man was injured, Kennedy switched on the lights and sirens. He carefully negotiated traffic on the snow-packed interstate, while Oese, knowing the patient was seriously hurt, put the critical care ambulance on standby and checked the status of the Flight For Life helicopters.Oese and Kennedy arrived at the accident nearly 10 miles from Silverthorne, where Lake Dillon Fire Authority firefighters were already tending to the 46-year-old man.His vehicle was on its roof, shattered glass littered the highway and car parts were scattered along the snowy bank above the road.The man was conscious, but bloodied and in severe pain. Oese, Kennedy and the firefighters loaded him onto a backboard and placed him inside the back of the ambulance.
Oese made a quick but calculated decision that the ambulance would head toward Denver to meet the Flight For Life ground crew instead of taking the man to Summit Medical Center.She later said that if the weather had been clear, she would have requested the Flight For Life helicopter land on the freeway to get the man to Denver as soon as possible.”I’ve only done that once in 10 years,” she said.The decision to travel eastbound was based on the level of care available, Oese said. The local medical center is a Level IV trauma center (although it will apply for a Level III status in the new, upgraded facility) and St. Anthony Central in Denver is a Level I. Taking the patient directly to Denver meant he could be in surgery close to an hour after the accident if that was the treatment he needed, she said.About 30 minutes later, the ambulance pulled into Idaho Springs, where Oese and Kennedy transferred the man into the care of a flight nurse in a Denver-based ambulance.This patient – such as all those who are transported by a local ambulance – will receive a bill for $975 plus $18 for each mile the ambulance traveled to transport him.That’s $100 and $3 more per mile than the same trip would have cost in October, due to the Board of County Commissioners’ November approval of the Service’s first rate increase since 2001.Director Sean Caffrey said he requested the rate hike to adjust to rising gasoline prices and a normal 3-percent increase in payroll.He added that the increase was not a direct result of the new St. Anthony Summit Medical Center that opened Dec. 7, despite a recent study that showed the expanded services offered at the facility could translate into a $1 million loss for the ambulance service, or one-third of its overall revenue.
“Our thinking is there is probably going to be a shortfall of some type as a result of the new hospital, so our plan was not to be in a hole starting out,” Caffrey said.That shortfall could come from a decrease in out-of-town trips because emergencies that used to require a ride to Denver or Vail can now be handled in Summit County.Because the service is funded almost entirely by ambulance fees, each trip its ambulances take helps to keep it in the black.Previously, all patients requiring an overnight stay had to be taken outside the county. Now, with a 25-bed hospital, they can stay local. Also, the new hospital offers two operating rooms and maternity services for Cesarean sections, eliminating other reasons for care in more advanced hospitals.On the other hand, having a hospital that offers a higher level of service could draw patients from Park and Clear Creek counties, which would create the potential for some new income, Caffrey said.For now, Caffrey will track the call load on a weekly basis to see how it is affected by the hospital, if at all. If he sees a significant drop, the next step would be to determine if there is more room to raise rates again, or whether a property tax mill levy should be discussed, Caffrey said.Caffrey said he doesn’t anticipate cutting services or laying off employees.
Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 13625, or at firstname.lastname@example.orgSummit County Ambulance Service statistics: – Responds to about 3,600 calls per year in a 600-square-mile zone – Staffs three 24/7 ambulances in Frisco, Dillon and Breckenridge. Additionally, an ambulance runs out of Keystone 10 hours per day every weekend of the year and a second ambulance is stationed in Frisco for 12 hours per day during the summer and winter seasons.- Employs 25 full-time and 27 part-time EMTs and paramedicsSource: Summit County Ambulance Service director Sean Caffrey