Despite opposition during campaign season, EMS advocates come together to find a solution

Moffat County Courthouse in Craig, Colorado on Jan. 4, 2022.
Photo by Billy Schuerman / For the Craig Press

In Moffat County, former political adversaries are banding together to find a solution to the very problem they fought over just this past fall.

Advocates for emergency medical services from across the county clashed this past campaign season, as a pair of ballot measures that would have created a health services district — removing responsibility for the primary ambulance service in the county from Memorial Regional Health, which says it can’t afford to continue providing it, and placing it under the control of a new taxing district along with the other ambulance services in the county — failed following a vigorous, sometimes vitriolic political scuffle.

It would have been easy for those on opposing sides of the measure to dig themselves deeper into their trenches and continue to battle their political adversaries even beyond Nov. 2. Instead, the two sides are working together to find a way forward and, hopefully, solve the problem of sustainable EMS.

“My entire goal has always been — when we realized that EMS was facing challenges, which is kind of scary — to have open and reasonable dialog,” said Dan Bingham, who is co-chairing a new county-ordained taskforce to find an answer to the EMS question. “It’s important that everybody has a voice. That’s where we get true solutions.”

Bingham, who has enjoyed a decades-long career involved with EMS and other related pursuits, was part of a small group who came to the county commissioners in mid-November with a proposal to work toward a new way forward. Though he himself was not as closely affiliated during the campaign season with the group Citizens Against 6A and 6B, Bingham was joined at that November meeting by three of that group’s primary actors: Karen Burley, T. Wright Dickinson and Darryl Steele. The four are all members of the nine-person taskforce.

Also represented on the committee are members of the former pro-6A and 6B team. Bingham’s co-chair is Justin Doubrava, the paramedic and EMS manager for Memorial Regional Health EMS. Doubrava was a major part of the yes campaign for those measures, joining his wife, Melissa, who operated as the outreach coordinator for the campaign.

“I’m pretty excited to see everyone else’s ideas,” Justin Doubrava said. “I think it’s a great start to getting all different portions of the community involved, as well as stake leaders from all over with various backgrounds. I think all of us together should be able to come up with a formidable plan to push EMS into the future and help us progress into something this community will be proud of.”

Doubrava acknowledged that frustration — or even hurt feelings — might have lingered on either side of the political fight, but said that there were more important things with which to be concerned.

“You have to kind of put politics aside,” he said. “There was reasoning behind how against (6A and 6B) they were initially, and perhaps they can take that energy and help us create something that will fit this community better than the initial proposed plan. If you can put your differences aside and come up with a solution, that’s the only way to move forward.”

That was Burley’s perspective, as well.

“It was never an anti-EMS thing from the beginning,” said Burley, who was perhaps the primary organizer and served as spokesperson for the anti-HSD group, but who is herself a longtime EMT and administrator in EMS systems. “All of us are very pro-EMS. (The campaign) was just anti-tax and anti-new government entity. I think it’s very exciting that we’re going to have both factions come together. That’s how we’ll get the best end product.”

Another member of the task force who fought for the ballot measures last fall comes at the problem from a much more urgent perspective. Nichole Becker, who would have been the representative on the HSD board from Dinosaur had the ballot measures passed, will again fight for her west-county town to get appropriate emergency services.

“My position on this hasn’t changed,” Becker said. “The end goal is to get an ambulance service to Dinosaur, make response time quicker and give these people access to emergency medical care. That’s really such a basic right that I’m honestly a little perplexed every day we still don’t have access to it. (The election) was a bit of a blow obviously for us, more than others maybe, but it’s just been a job I’ve taken on myself to make sure we continue the ball rolling and people don’t forget what this means for this community.”

While Craig and Maybell have robust ambulance services that may or may not have long-term funding plans available to them, Dinosaur has nothing. It relies on services out of Vernal, Utah, and waits as much as 45 minutes or more for care in the case of an emergency.

“There’s a misconception that Dinosaur doesn’t have the call volume,” Becker said. “It’s not true.”

Becker was glad to be included in the newly energized conversation — this time from the beginning — noting that the town itself may not have understood well what it was voting for or against on November’s ballot. She says, though, that every day that passes without a solution is another day of dangerous circumstances for her community.

“Dinosaur is a community who is willing to help each other, but we can’t do it ourselves,” she said. “We need money, equipment, training. We need help.”

And that, as well as a long-term solution for Craig and the rest of the county, weighs on the other members of the task force, both those who fought to defeat the measure and those who fought to pass it and lost.

“We can find common ground,” Doubrava said. “We can continue to serve our communities at the highest level possible. It’ll be a good thing. Listening to Maybell, that’s going to come into the picture as well. What do they need to run efficiently and how can we help them? We need to get resources to Dinosaur. We need to keep our EMS running strong here in Craig, as well.”

Bingham, who said the group is working to organize the first meeting of the new committee in the coming days, believes this can work.

“The true message is we’ll come together and we’re going to look at all possible solutions and come up with the one that works best for Moffat County,” Bingham said. “When we get it done, we’ll have a pretty amazing access to emergency medicine, and hopefully some teams working closer together and growing together. We’re faced with some challenging economics, and everything comes with a price. But we need to find something workable.”

For Burley, the effort feels like proof of what Moffat County residents tend to tell themselves about the community’s uniqueness.

“A lot of bigger counties couldn’t come to an agreement, and I think it’s exciting for us to be able to sit down and do that,” Burley said. “I think we’ll show and prove Moffat County isn’t like every county and never has been. Wouldn’t it be great if politics were always like that? Maybe we’ll find solutions.”

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