Back to the beginning: EMS stakeholders make another attempt to unite Moffat County emergency services |

Back to the beginning: EMS stakeholders make another attempt to unite Moffat County emergency services

One of the Memorial Regional Hospital ambulances sits in its garage near the hospital.
Cuyler Meade / Craig Press

County residents who initially opposed ballot measures that aimed to create a health services district in the county have turned to the Moffat County commissioners seeking support of a different attempt to unite emergency medical services in the county.

As a result of this first meeting, groups represented at a special meeting of the commissioners agreed that a nine-member task force should be assembled in order for all parties to feel represented going forward.

Representatives for the task force will be chosen by their respective groups — which include stakeholders like Memorial Regional Hospital, Craig EMS, Moffat County EMS and the Maybell Ambulance — along with at-large members and representatives from the north of the county and other regions. That task force will be assembled by the commissioners, who helped facilitate the meeting on Monday. Commissioner Tony Bohrer said the goal is to have it assembled by January.

“You get too many (taskforce members), you might beat your head against the wall,” Bohrer said. “If you have too little, then it’s going to be perceived that there’s not enough voice in the conversation. So we want to make sure that we (have the right amount).”

Multiple possible solutions that could replace the current instability in the EMS system in Moffat County were discussed by stakeholders at the meeting, which was requested by the former opponents of the ballot measures. Hospital administrators have said that MRH loses about $600,000 each year in order to support emergency services, and board members have said they are unsure how much longer they can afford to support that deficit.

Earlier this year, a separate task force made up of hospital representatives and others put together ballot measure 6A, which proposed a county-wide taxing district that would create independence from MRH and raise property taxes by about 2.5 mills to fund the district. 6B would have created a five-member board to manage the funds; three potential members were from Craig, one was from Maybell and one was from Dinosaur. The battle over 6A and 6B quickly became one of the more controversial topics of the election season, which led to an occasionally tense Monday meeting.

Now, Moffat County is back to square one.

Nichole Becker, who would have been the representative from Dinosaur in the health services district, said at the meeting that the EMS services in Dinosaur are still in limbo after the defeat of 6A and 6B. There is no ambulance in Dinosaur, and citizens needing emergency help typically have to wait up to 45 minutes to receive transportation from Vernal, Utah. Under 6A and 6B, Dinosaur would have received a fully funded ambulance.

“Dinosaur has nothing. We don’t have a local ambulance,” Becker said. “While some of you have the luxury of sitting here debating this, while you still have an ambulance that will service you, Dinosaur doesn’t. Our ambulance comes from Vernal, not from Jensen. They come all the way from Vernal, which is 30 to 45 minutes. That’s all weather-dependent. When you’re sitting in a residential area, doing CPR on someone for 45 minutes, that is unconscionable. I just feel like we need to put a little bit of urgency in this with the county commissioners and everybody else. Dinosaur has nothing, I just can’t stress that enough.”

Becker also said that several solutions for Dinosaur’s needs mentioned at Monday’s meeting have already been discussed, to no avail. She said that the fire department does not necessarily want to get involved with medical emergency services, and other Colorado communities like Rangely wanted to charge large amounts of money to coordinate care. Becker said currently, Dinosaur needs a four-wheel drive ambulance and equipment, and with the certified emergency service workers they already have, they could easily put together a fully functioning EMS team.

But that costs money, she said. Maybell currently receives tax funds to help keep its services up and running. Dinosaur receives nothing.

The group that opposed ballot measures 6A and 6B repeatedly mentioned that they were not comfortable creating a special taxing district to support EMS. Eventually, they said, they hope that the county commissioners — who will be a neutral party at this stage — would take over the plan once one had been put into place.

“Can the county afford to fund a countywide EMS district?” Bohrer said. “And obviously that answer’s no, not at this current state (and) not with anything that we could do right now. The county budget’s about to lose 47% of its budget, so the county can’t take it out.”

The group who organized Monday’s meeting, which was led by Karen Burley, T. Wright Dickinson, Darryl Steele and Dan Bingham, said they are not sure how exactly the countywide effort would be funded or how much it would cost. That, they said, would be decided as the new taskforce meets to discuss needs of their respective communities. Steele, who has a long history of helping organize and start EMS services in Maybell, said that those discussions should come over time and not all at once.

“I would like to see (EMS data in Moffat County) before we say how much ambulance we need (and) how many people we need to put this together,” Steele said. “So I think before we really start talking about money, I think we’ve got to put a plan together that we think is acceptable for Moffat County, and then see what that cost is going to be.”

In 2020, there were over 1,800 calls to EMS services in Craig, 42 in Maybell and 40 in Dinosaur. They were not calls to drive people to doctors’ appointments, 6A and 6B campaign coordinator Melissa Doubrava said at Monday’s meeting. They were emergency calls.

Burley, who with Steele and Dickinson was an organizer of the Citizens Opposed to 6A and 6B campaign, said that the county commissioners should handle the issue by appointing and removing board members as they see fit, rather than a taxing district where voters would decide directly who gets to be on that board.

“We need the oversight by current elected officials through consistent and fulsome reporting. We need to assure open meetings and the meetings recorded when appropriate,” Burley said. “So our goals: we want to solicit full participation from the public and providers. Our positive outcomes benefit the entire county. We want to avoid the challenges of passing tax increases. We all know that passing a tax increase in Moffat County is pretty next to impossible. So we need to look at other ways to do this. We need to create something that incorporates the individualism of each service and protect it for longevity.”

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