County directs EMS task force to address service to Dinosaur

After eight month of looking for a countywide solution for emergency medical services, a local task force has been directed by Moffat County commissioners to turn its focus to Dinosaur.

The Moffat County EMS task force presented its recommendation to commissioners and community stakeholders on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

“We think we should move EMS under one countywide entity,” task force co-chair Karen Burley said. “The biggest thing we came to is that we believe that EMS is an essential service. In Moffat County, we would like our government and our entities to recognize it as an essential service.” 

The task force was formed in response to a failed ballot measure to create a special service district for EMS. The group started meeting in January to review information and come up with a recommendation for countywide emergency medical services.

After a review of financial information, call numbers and staffing models for existing services, the task force came to the conclusion that no one group could sustainably afford to run countywide EMS. 

Several task force members pushed for EMS to be operated under the county because, they said, commissioners are responsible to taxpayers and charged with looking out for the well-being of the whole county.

The task force proposed that other local entities that utilize EMS, including the city of Craig, local fire districts, Memorial Regional Health and Dinosaur contribute a percentage of the cost of a county-run EMS program based on use.

Currently, EMS receives around 1,900 calls per year, 71% of which fall within Craig city limits. The volunteer EMS in Maybell gets around 40 calls per year. Call numbers for Dinosaur are estimated at 48 per year. 

The task force also wanted to see a shared billing system for countywide EMS in hopes of getting a higher collection rate. MRH has a roughly 50% collection rate for billed services, but Maybell collects only $5,000 of the $60,000 billed services per year, according to the task force.

Between the contributions of local entities and fees for service, task force members believe the proposed model would nearly pay for itself. 

However, some stakeholders were leery of the county taking on EMS while facing cuts to the tax base from the coming coal transition, in addition to potential changes in state oversight of EMS. They also questioned whether other entities would be willing to pay a percentage of the cost for services that don’t bring their agencies any revenue. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Riley reinforced that MRH is not going to give up EMS unless there is a sustainable solution that would not compromise MRH’s existing EMS. 

Commissioner Tony Bohrer said that with the hospital saying it is going to keep its existing EMS program, he would like to see the task force focus on how to bring Maybell and Dinosaur EMS up to par. 

“I would like the next steps to be going to Dinosaur, meeting with their leaders and listening to what they need,” Commissioner Melody Villard said. “I think that goes a long way to repairing relationships. And you may find they need less than you think they are asking for.” 

Refocusing on Dinosaur EMS

Although Burley said the proposal reflected a consensus among the task force, it didn’t include any cost figures for starting an ambulance service in Dinosaur, which currently does not receive EMS from Moffat County. 

“I don’t feel like all of us think there is a consensus when the numbers for Dinosaur are not included in the proposal,” said Nichole Becker, a task force representative from Dinosaur.

Dinosaur, which sits 87 miles west of Craig, currently utilizes EMS from Gold Cross out of Vernal, Utah. Without a local ambulance to respond to emergency calls, there are a number of elderly residents who are vulnerable due to the 45-minute response time from Vernal. 

According to Becker, it makes the most sense for Dinosaur to have a volunteer EMS under the Artesia Fire District. There are currently five community members, including Becker, who are in the process of getting trained to serve on a local volunteer EMS crew. 

Now that community members have already stepped forward, it’s not a matter of getting volunteers. Instead, Dinosaur needs help from the county getting an ambulance, medical oversight and establishing a local service, Becker said. 

“We know it will cost roughly $30,000 per year to operate, but it will cost more than that to start the service, and I think we’re being irresponsible to not look at those costs for Dinosaur,” Becker explained. 

Some task force members felt that Dinosaur needs to be willing to pay for starting its own EMS. Becker said that it’s hard to rally her community members, many of whom are on a fixed income, to pay more for an essential service when they already contribute taxes for county services they don’t receive. 

“I understand why Dinosaur feels the way it does,” said Memorial Regional Health CEO Jennifer Riley. “They pay a lot of taxes, and they don’t get the same services that the rest of the county gets.” 

Riley explained that Dinosaur residents pay into the school district but don’t have a school, pay county taxes but receive fewer services than other county residents do, and pay into the hospital bond but do not often use MRH because of the distance.

Becker said another source of frustration for Dinosaur residents is when their community is told resources are available, but then Dinosaur is told no when the town tries to utilize them.

Developing a new service for Dinosaur may not happen overnight, but the new direction from commissioners may put the goal in sight.

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