Consultant recommends Summit County merge its ambulance service with Summit Fire & EMS
Nine months after being hired to assess the financial, operational and staffing health of Summit County’s ambulance services, Emergency Services Consulting International presented its findings to the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday. The consultancy recommended Summit County take several steps toward improving its ambulance operations and making them more efficient, including consolidating Summit County Ambulance Service and Summit Fire & EMS into a single agency.
Bill Boyd, the consultancy’s representative presenting its findings, pointed out several areas the county should pay attention to when it comes to maintaining the viability and staff morale for the ambulance services based in Summit, including the fire districts that handle emergency medical services.
Boyd said that the current structure, with Summit County having its own ambulance service that handles calls in the county alongside Summit Fire & EMS and Red, White & Blue fire districts, is redundant. Aside from that, Boyd said that a survey done of staff-level employees showed that there was a bit of a fractured relationship between the different agencies, which in turn leads to lower morale.
Another issue affecting morale is out-of-county transfers. While transfers can be a cash cow for agencies, given the amount of patient billing time for the long journeys to Denver or other areas, they also pull units away from their stations for long periods of time, with some crews occasionally conducting multiple long-haul transfers in the same shift. The average duration of an out-of-county transport is nearly four hours.
The consultancy’s prime recommendation to address the issues with redundancy, transfers and cost issues that will come to a head in 2023 — when Safety First funding for emergency services approved by voters in 2014 expires — is to consolidate Summit County Ambulance Service with Summit Fire & EMS.
Boyd said that under the reorganization, ambulance personnel will not see a reduction in salary or hours, and that the county would be better served staying out of handling its own emergency service and delegating that to Summit Fire while providing oversight with ordinances. The consultancy also recommended that the county issue independent licenses for Flight For Life and Terra Two for their emergency operations.
Alternatively, Boyd recommended that if the county chose to keep “status quo,” that it at least issues independent licenses for Red, White & Blue, Flight For Life and Terra Two so they could do their work unencumbered. That would also require that the agencies divvy up the out-of-county transfers. Red, White and Blue has objected to taking on more and more out-of-county transfer requests from the county in the past.
The consultation on EMS operations also touches on a decades-old argument about whether Summit County’s fire districts and EMS services should all be merged under a single consolidated agency. Though efforts have been made to organize the agencies under unified administration in the past, talks ultimately broke down over how to merge the individual agencies with their individual tax bases and capital improvement needs. With the rate of growth of Colorado, local fire districts are also being relied on more and more for emergency medical calls.
Summit County manager Scott Vargo said that the county was open to the recommendations, including a possible merger of the ambulance service with Summit Fire, but said the county will only come to such an important decision when all relevant parties have been consulted.
“We are certainly open to having those conversations,” Vargo said. “We’re still trying to understand what that looks like. We want to know how interested Summit Fire & EMS would be in taking on Summit County Ambulance, as it would be a significant change in their operation and organization.”
Vargo added that he understood how the uncertainty in agency administration has to be hard on the front-line emergency medical staff and promised that the county is looking for a solid solution.
“We want to see movement on this,” Vargo said. “Our county ambulance employees have been in a state of flux for several years now, and we know how that wears on people. We have to work forward in one direction or the other and give clarity to staff and fire districts.”
Aside from the recommendations, Boyd provided data about the frequency of emergency medical calls. From 2015-17, there were 10,254 local EMS calls dispatched and 8,214 patient transports. Two or more incidents occurred simultaneously 62.7 percent of the time; two or more out-of-county transports occurred simultaneously 41.5 percent of the time.
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