Future of Moffat County EMS still up in the air

EMS task force looks into different staffing models that meet the needs and desired budget for future EMS program

One of the Memorial Regional Hospital ambulances sits in its garage near the hospital. The Moffat County EMS task force is still working to identify a possible staffing model as part of a larger effort by the county to provide better emergency services to residents.
Cuyler Meade / Craig Press archive

After four months of working toward a solution, the future of EMS services in Moffat County is yet to be determined. 

The Moffat County EMS task force has been evaluating financial and service data to make a recommendation to county commissioners on how to move forward with EMS services for Moffat County. Task force co-chair Karen Burley said that all options are on the table right now. 

The task force was assembled in March to begin discussions about how to move forward with EMS services after voters rejected the 6A and 6B ballot measures to create a special services district and establish tax funding for the entity. 

A financial subcommittee reviewed financial statements for the EMS program from Memorial Regional Health and found there was an increase in program expenses in 2021, making the program unsustainable. 

Because personnel is the largest expense for EMS, the group began looking at staffing models that would provide the most optimal coverage during high volume call times while keeping costs manageable. 

“We came to the consensus that hiring traveling EMTs is not sustainable; we as a group are not going to recommend using a traveling staff model,” Burley said. 

The current staffing model for EMS includes lots of overtime, which Burley also said the group will need to take a look at.

Burley said one thing the group feels strongly about is that the EMS program should be “homegrown,” meaning the program hires from within the Yampa Valley or nearby communities of Wyoming and Meeker. 

“We want people who live in this area and understand this area,” Burley said. “We want to get back to the way that the community used to feel about their EMS providers. EMS providers years ago were the heroes of the community. We want a model where people can make full-time wages with benefits, raise their family and be a part of the community.” 

Burley said the task force understands a robust recruitment effort would be needed to build a homegrown EMS program. 

There are some other barriers to the program the task force has envisioned as well, including a lack of local housing for staff, which is a barrier for most local employers looking to recruit talent.

Another problem is that Colorado Northwest Community College plans on suspending its two-year EMS training program starting in January. 

EMS program director Richard Nichols said that low enrollment is the reason CNCC decided to suspend the program, and the uncertainty of the future of the EMS program in the region hasn’t helped. 

“Getting enough students to take the course has always been the biggest challenge,” Nichols said. 

The college will maintain the ability to hold EMS certification courses through the community education program if there is enough interest to fill a class. 

The associate of science in emergency medical services also will be suspended. Across the industry a certification in EMS is needed to get a job, and supervisors and leadership roles are starting to require an advanced training degree. 

Burley said the EMS task force has been in contact with CNCC, and they are in the process of scheduling meetings. 

On the other hand, Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat has started an EMS training program, offering both certifications and an advanced training degree, which could help provide a training option for the local workforce. 

The task force has put together a subcommittee that will meet and negotiate the staffing model to come up with a recommendation for county commissioners. 

“We have not come to a consensus as to where EMS should end up, but I don’t think that’s our job,” Burley said. “We are trying to honor the wishes of the local EMS providers and also economically find a good way to manage the program.” 

Burley said the group has been great to work with thus far with everyone committed to doing their best to find a solution. 

The task force also has yet to determine the best way to deliver EMS service to Dinosaur, which currently utilizes EMS service from Gold Cross in Vernal, Utah. 

Burley said that officials in Dinosaur still want to work with Gold Cross, even if they are able to get an ambulance in town to make more timely transfers for calls requiring advanced services.

“It’s all about community,” Burley said. “We still need to care about what happens to each other and how we can help one another. And we are going to have to rely on that to solve these issues.” 

Since March, there have been some changes to the makeup of the nine-person task force, with co-chair Dan Bingham stepping down from the committee in the spring. 

Craig local Jan Gerber has joined the committee as a Craig representative. Gerber is now co-chair of the group along with Justin Doubrava, EMS supervisor and paramedic, and Burley, who has years of experience in medical billing.

After the subcommittee meets to delve into the potential staffing models, the EMS task force will schedule its next meeting.

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