Summit County ambulances to stay at full strength (for now) thanks to last-minute deal
August 18, 2017
A local ambulance provider on Friday reached an eleventh-hour deal with the Summit County government allowing it to keep its patient transport privileges just a day before they were set to lapse.
The Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District had for months been locked in protracted negotiations with the county — which has the sole authority to grant ambulance licenses — over its role in Summit's wider ambulance system.
Talks broke down in June, and the county government announced it would revoke RWB's transport rights, although that wouldn't take effect until 60 days later on Saturday, Aug. 19.
An interim deal, offered by RWB late Thursday and accepted by the county the next afternoon, will keep RWB's three medic units running at full capacity until April 30, 2018.
The complex dispute centered on the county's insistence that RWB conduct more out-of-county transports, or OCTs, which generate higher revenues but are time-consuming and unpopular.
Chafing at this perceived effort to limit its independence, RWB resisted, arguing that doing OCTs on calls from outside its district would strain its paramedic resources, imperil its agency accreditation and hurt its overall emergency preparedness.
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"They're trying to push us into out-of-county transport, which puts us in a position where we may not be able to respond as quickly," RWB board president Arch Gothard told the Summit Daily in May.
The county government — citing a study it commissioned showing Summit's ambulance system to be over-capacity — disagreed, saying impacts to service would be negligible.
In mid-May, the county threatened to revoke RWB's authorization to transport patients unless it agreed to join the countywide OCT rotation that includes the Summit County Ambulance Service, Lake Dillon-Fire Rescue and Copper Mountain Fire-Rescue.
Revocation would've meant that while the fire district's paramedics could deliver care on scene, patients would have to wait for a different ambulance to arrive before being taken to the hospital — unless they were in critical condition.
Reams of correspondence between the two entities failed to produce a compromise, and in June the county made good on its threat. The clock slowly ticked to Saturday's deadline.
"We've been working hard to get a deal done," county manager Scott Vargo said on Thursday afternoon. "There have been some big gives on our part and so little movement on Red, White and Blue's."
But late on Thursday afternoon, RWB sent the county the interim deal, offering to do a maximum of 50 OCTs until the end of April. The district said it would consider doing OCTs on a case-by-case basis after exceeding the cap.
Late Friday afternoon, the county agreed, forestalling the revocation but leaving a long-term solution still unsettled.
"We reached an acceptable solution to the situation," RWB fire chief Jim Keating said in an email. "We continue to remain true to our duty and goal of providing the highest level of medical care to our residents and guests. This compromise will allow us the time to seek more permanence to difficult service delivery issues."
Vargo also noted that more negotiation would be needed to bring steady order to Summit's ambulance system.
"We are happy that we were able to reach an interim compromise and hope that this leads to a long-term solution that benefits the entire Summit County community and results in the best possible patient care and the most efficient use of taxpayer funding," he said in an email.
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