Controversy over ambulance district elevates as Maybell pushes back
The longtime ambulance service says it wants to remain independent; the proposed Health Services District believes a unified service is necessary
As Moffat County barrels toward the Nov. 2 election deadline, one ballot issue has a county town mounting a passionate campaign to try to stand in its way.
The proposed Health Services District, which would create a distinct taxing district to fund ambulance and Emergency Medical Services throughout the county at an average cost to homeowners of $35 per year, has the town of Maybell up in arms.
Since 1977, Maybell has run its own ambulance service. The service is funded by the county at an operating budget of about $30,000 a year, and the county owns all Maybell Ambulance’s equipment. But the service has been staffed by volunteers for decades, and it’s a point of enormous pride for the town of fewer than 100 people.
Last week, a few dozen Maybell folks affiliated with the Maybell Ambulance Service gathered for a private meeting. They invited the Craig Press and eventually allowed Clint Jantz, a Maybell resident and the unopposed candidate to represent Maybell on the potential five-person board of the would-be HSD, to remain, despite his lack of an invitation and the group’s initial desire to remove him from the meeting. Both the Craig Press reporter and Jantz were asked to leave before the meeting officially ended, but in the meantime, numerous grievances were raised about the HSD.
Many of the same grievances were levied during a special meeting with the Moffat County Commissioners in August, wherein Maybell residents asked the commissioners to remove the question from the ballot — something the commissioners do not have the power to do. At the end of last week’s meeting, a plan was being discussed to work to block the issue’s passage through a coordinated campaign against it.
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Sam Radke, who is the chief financial officer for Memorial Regional Health and also the chair of the HSD task force, says this is getting out of hand.
“We don’t want to take anything away from the Maybell Ambulance,” Radke said by phone Monday. “We just want to help.”
Radke ran down the laundry list of frustrations — and, by his estimation, misconceptions — held by the Maybell Ambulance stakeholders and their supporters, along with his own passionate rebuttals.
Was Maybell included in the planning process? Were they lied to?
“Maybell EMTs specifically are feeling they were lied to,” said Karen Burley in a phone interview Monday. Burley is a former EMT herself and has long been affiliated with the Maybell Ambulance, having recently been designated a sort of spokesperson for the group.
“At first, Maybell thought this sounded OK. They didn’t have concerns,” Burley said. “It doesn’t sound so bad. They didn’t feel it was necessary to keep an eye on the task force, because they thought they’d be able to run their ambulance the way they have for 45 years. But then the task force wrote this service plan, and the service plan doesn’t say that.”
The service plan calls for the elected five-member board to be the executive body governing a unified ambulance service that serves Craig, Maybell, Dinosaur and all of rural Moffat County. Maybell doesn’t like that.
“In the beginning, (the Maybell Ambulance volunteers) didn’t think anybody would have purview over them,” Burley said. “They were told they would be able to operate Maybell Ambulance like it is now. Maybell Ambulance has a board — (the Maybell Ambulance) elects its own board — and they’re overseen by the county. Sherrie Johnson is president of the Maybell board, and they have officers, and they do their decisions by voting.”
Johnson is a part-time county employee drawing a paycheck that is included in the county’s budget for the Maybell Ambulance.
Burley, who said she discovered these details while attending an unrelated commissioner meeting and brought the service plan back to Johnson, said the alarm felt by the folks in Maybell at this discovery was quite severe. That’s why, she said, they feel “lied to.”
But Radke said he’s tried to include Maybell from the very beginning.
“From the very inception of the EMS Task Force, the director of Maybell EMS (Johnson) was invited to the weekly meetings,” Radke wrote in an email. “She has received agendas, copies of minutes and invitations weekly to 32 meetings in total.”
Radke provided documentation — copies of emails with Johnson’s email address included — to show that Johnson was invited to attend weekly meetings as early as Feb. 19.
“When I was appointed chair of the EMS task force, the very first appointment I made was with the director of Maybell EMS on April 16 over lunch,” Radke said. “At the time I felt that we had a positive discussion about where we were headed: We wanted to be a resource to the Maybell EMS to make it even stronger than what it has been.”
Burley said Johnson and other Maybell Ambulance representatives didn’t attend because, in part, they weren’t worried about the situation based on previous conversations and assurances they felt they had from face-to-face meetings. Additionally, the 8 a.m. Friday meetings were challenging to fit into their schedules.
“Sherrie said, ‘I have a brand-new job, I can’t take off and go to these meetings,’” Burley said. “Maybell EMTs, they’re volunteers, they all have jobs. Nobody could stop their jobs. And at that point, Maybell Ambulance didn’t have concerns. We didn’t look at a service plan until June 8 when it became available after the (county commissioners’) hearing.”
Burley emphasized the surprise in Maybell when the service plan was read and it was discovered that Maybell wouldn’t have full control over its own services should this district pass.
“You feel like they had the decency to meet with you, and this is what they told you, but you weren’t aware they were writing a service plan that would affect you, because you weren’t part of that planning process,” Burley said.
Radke said that invitations in July to meet with Johnson and others in Maybell were rebuffed. A copy of an email he provided attests to that statement.
In Radke’s initial email, dated July 9, Radke asks to meet with Johnson and others on the EMS team in Maybell to discuss details and strategies as the process moves forward. Johnson, in her reply, was not interested.
“I have made it clear to Melissa (Doubrava, who is running outreach for the HSD campaign) that we are not participating in the media campaign,” Johnson wrote, in part, in the email to Radke and others in the HSD task force. “We don’t need to read any more articles about how lacking our services are, or how our care is sub-standard.”
What is the hospital’s role in the Health Services District?
Maybell is further skeptical — putting it mildly — of the involvement of Memorial Regional Hospital. Burley, while listing numerous shortcomings of the hospital and its recent decisions and management, said that most of the group’s aggravation could be boiled down to a single problem, as they saw it.
“Maybell was told one thing, and the service plans says something else,” she said. “They don’t want to be employees of the hospital.”
HSD employees will not be employees of the hospital. They will be employees of the new taxing district, which will be overseen by the five-member board.
However, two issues complicate the perception: First, that there are five candidates for a five-member board, and some of them have an affiliation or even employment with MRH; and second, that the hospital will be providing some support services initially to the HSD.
“The service plan says (the HSD) will pursue an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the hospital to provide services of H.R., accounting and I.T.,” Burley said. “That’s when Maybell started to get anxious. Wait a minute, we don’t want to work for the hospital.”
The fear, outside the issue of who controls the Maybell Ambulance, is that the motivation behind this whole enterprise is dishonest, Burley said. The belief among many in Maybell is that this whole taxing entity will be controlled by — and therefore funnel money toward — the hospital.
But Radke says emphatically that’s simply not the case.
For one, the math makes no sense, he said.
“The EMS department is receiving support services from MRH,” he said. “These costs are included in the plan at an annual cost of $48,000. This cost is hardly a ‘revenue stream’ to MRH. With daily expenses of $150,000, this $48,000 would only cover eight hours of expenses for one day of a 365-day year.”
Next, the hospital is actively urging the would-be board to contract these services with someone else as soon as possible, and there is no requirement in the service plan that says the HSD must remain contracted with the hospital beyond Day 1.
“The newly formed board is welcome to shop and purchase the support services from any other business,” Radke wrote. “The MRH CEO has stated that he will only provide these services on a short-term basis; the new HSD must find another source for their support services.”
Burley doesn’t believe either statement. She can’t imagine $48,000 is really what those services will cost, believing it will be a much more significant source of funds, and she suggests there’s little to prevent other streams of revenue from being directed toward MRH.
Radke isn’t the only one denying that suggestion. Clint Jantz, the candidate for the HSD board who lives in Maybell, insists that there’s every intention and option for the board to acquire another contractor to provide these services.
“The hospital is offering these services ‘at cost’ of $4,000 a month,” Jantz wrote in an email to the Craig Press. “I say offering because as a board we would have the authority to pursue these services from other sources (city, county, private, etc.) if the board thinks that would be a better option.”
What about representation?
Another worry from Maybell, related to losing control of their ambulance, is that they won’t be represented on the board, or not enough.
“Why should Craig get three members on the board?” Burley said. “The town of Maybell went nuts over that. Most boards will protect their little guys by giving them more voice. If you can convince the little guys of what’s going on, that’s more fair and equitable.”
Radke struggles with that one.
“The EMS task force is recommending one seat from Maybell, one from Dinosaur and three from Craig,” he wrote. “Although Maybell and Dinosaur represent 5% of Moffat County, they would have 40% of the board representation. If the newly elected (board) wants to establish geographic districts to ensure representation, the board could make that decision once they are sworn into office.”
Jantz thinks that’s a good idea. Currently, while one candidate is from Maybell and another is from Dinosaur, there is no guarantee that would always be the case.
“I do agree with the concern of districting the board so there is always a voice for Maybell and Dinosaur,” Jantz wrote. “I believe that is a conversation the board should start at its first meeting if we are given the opportunity.”
But Burley and those for whom she is speaking aren’t buying it.
“I believe we can do this better,” she said. “I think it might not happen overnight, but I believe with the hospital and these good people and when you put that much brain power in the room, you can do miracles.”
Craig Press reporter Eliza Noe contributed to this report.
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