Summit County officials to advocate for statewide change to ambulance law
KEYSTONE — Summit County officials plan to go to state legislators to advocate for a change to Colorado law that prohibits patients with minor injuries from being transported to a clinic in a vehicle that is not a licensed ambulance.
Currently Colorado statutes require that if a patient is going to be transported on a public right of way, they must be in a licensed ambulance vehicle with few exceptions. The statutes create an issue for patients at local ski areas, like Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Resort and Copper Mountain Resort, who often need the services of the local ski clinic only a few hundred feet away.
At a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session on Tuesday, Nov. 24, Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine proposed that the commissioners approve a change to current emergency guidelines, allowing for a patient to be transferred by a secure transport vehicle, even if an ambulance is available, because a doctor believes it is necessary and will save time.
“(The change) is only related to the very rare circumstance that you have a patient that comes down the mountain, there’s a licensed ambulance sitting there and there’s the unlicensed patient transport vehicle,” Vaine said in an interview. “And for some reason the doctor thinks they’ll shave a minute and a half off of patient care time if they don’t transfer the patient to the care of the paramedics and the ambulance.”
The issue only applies to ski areas that are connected to the ski clinic via a public road. At Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, ski patrol is able to take patients to the clinic on a toboggan, so they never are required to use an ambulance unless a patient must be transported to the hospital, Vaine said.
A change to the guidelines would help save patients with minor injuries like a broken wrist or injured knee from having to foot the cost of an ambulance bill. It also would give doctors the ability to choose the fastest care option possible.
However, state laws prohibit the commissioners from being able to approve the change, County Attorney Jeff Huntley said.
“We’ve been looking for a commonsense solution for overall patient care and to avoid any kind of absurd result under the law,” he said. “The law is what it is and it does make it a class three misdemeanor to violate it.”
Currently, the clinics have patient transport cars available to take patients to the clinics when there is not an ambulance at the ready. The change would allow for the clinics to use those vehicles even when an ambulance is available.
“We do that so that we don’t overwhelm the ambulance system with things that can be straightforward to be taken care of at the clinic,” said Dr. Kendrick Adnan, a doctor with Vail Summit Emergency Physicians.
The cars that the clinics use are far from an everyday vehicle, Adnan said. They allow for a gurney to be securely placed in the car.
“You wouldn’t want to necessarily pay for an ambulance ride that’s just a few hundred feet or so from the base of the ski slopes to get to the ski clinic where they can definitively take care of that,” said Adnan. “It’s the right thing to do for the patients, but it’s also the right thing to do for the emergency medical system.”
At the meeting, the commissioners suggested that local officials approach state lawmakers about making the change to allow for nonambulance patient transport in Colorado law. Vaine said the county is working to set up meetings with state representatives.
“The law desperately needs to be changed,” Commissioner Thomas Davidson said at the meeting. “I’m not going to vote ’yes’ on this because it’s illegal. The industry needs to go to the legislature and they need to change the law so that we can do this, but we can’t do this right now.”
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