Maybell Ambulance Services stakeholders express frustration over proposed county-wide EMS district
Current and former EMTs, ambulance drivers and stakeholders of the Maybell Ambulance Services gathered at the Maybell Community Center Thursday in a private meeting to discuss the upcoming ballot initiative to create a Health Services District (HSD) in Moffat County.
Emotions at the meeting were high, as folks expressed concern about the controlling influences, the process to get to this point, and what they viewed as a lack of transparency surrounding the proposal.
Two ambulances cover the 2,700 square mile area for which Maybell EMTs provide services. In that square mileage, citizens live in various terrains, including on mountain sides and on ranches, which can make access to those patients difficult.
The proposed HSD is offering to pay EMTs and other workers up to four times as much as what they get now, but the people of Maybell say they don’t want that money. To ambulance director Sherrie Johnson, they care for each other as volunteers because they want to, not because they want to make money.
“I don’t think that (Craig EMTs) understand the whole volunteer, community-minded thing, because (Craig is) a larger community. They’re going out three and four times a day,” Johnson said at the meeting. “I don’t think that Craig ambulance understands that’s where we come from. That’s their full-time job, and I certainly understand that. They’re all paid way under what they should be paid. I get that, too. But this is not why we do this. It’s because of the community and our families.”
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Another concern brought up surrounded the need, or perhaps the lack thereof, for “enhanced training” that would be funded by the HSD. According to the state of Colorado, to become an EMT, all prospective students must pass the same standards. Ambulances providing care must also pass a checklist of services that are provided by the state. Currently, Maybell ambulance services cover both of those guidelines.
“EMS Council pays for a lot of (training). If it doesn’t, I get grants from the state,” Johnson said. “We have excellent training, and it’s at the same level and par with what other services have, whether it’s rural, or city. And also our equipment is great. We have great ambulances, and even though they’re older, they’re in prime condition.”
Should the district pass the ballot, five directors will simultaneously be voted to control it — two to serve until the first regular special district election in 2023, and three to serve until 2025. The only way the initiative can be removed from the ballot is with a court order and a judge’s approval.
Currently, there are exactly five candidates running for positions on the potential board — just enough to fill each seat without competition. Three are from Craig, one is from Dinosaur and one, Clint Jantz, is from Maybell. If passed, property taxes in the county will be raised by an average of about $35 per homeowner each year. Though some in the county have expressed concern that this amount would be increased once the coal mines and power plants close, by Colorado constitutional law, no tax increase can be made unless approved by vote by taxpayers.
EMS services outside of Craig receive some support from Memorial Regional Hospital, but with EMS services in the county losing $600,000 each year, it is not guaranteed that MRH will continue to be able to fund 24-hour ambulance service in Craig, much less provide Maybell that support. On March 25, MRH’s Board of Trustees announced that it could no longer afford to provide EMS service to Moffat County.
According to proponents of the initiative, the HSD will do the following, as listed on its website verbatim:
Provide the funding necessary to create an independent, focused EMS service and resume emergency response services without a financial loss;
Expand timely services and provide much needed resources to remote and rural areas of the County, like Dinosaur and Maybell;
Equip every ambulance with the necessary tools to respond to any emergency,
Keep our families, loved ones, and visitors safe;
Fix the patchwork of fragmented services Moffat County currently relies on without consuming multiple funding streams; and
Provide long term stability and local control over Moffat County EMS services.
In Maybell Thursday, a concern echoing throughout the meeting by several attendees was the lack of community outreach toward the people of Maybell as a whole. According to EMTs at the Maybell Ambulance service, they were invited to a lunch months ago with HSD stakeholders to introduce the idea of the district, but the community of Maybell as a whole has had few — if any — meetings.
Though it technically was not illegal, the choice to not host these meetings until the initiative was already on the ballot was viewed as “disingenuous,” some said, including former Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson.
“I was taken aback by the fact that it didn’t appear to me that there had been an outreach effort to the communities,” Dickinson said. “In establishing this process, I was surprised at that. I just thought it was our way of doing business.”
Dickinson also cited the size of the county as a complication of uniting Moffat County. In an area that’s almost the size of the state of Connecticut, he said that not all communities in the county were considered when the HSD was being formed.
“Moffat is not a nice, single community. I mean, we’ve got four corners of the county, (and) we need to think about all the folks in the county as we do this,” Dickinson said. “I at least asked twice now, once at the meeting here and meeting with the commissioners, that this task force withdraw this ballot initiative, and sit down with this and do this thing right… Don’t try to run over us in the rural parts of the community, just trying to solve (the hospital’s) singular problem.”
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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:45 p.m. to include a response from the Bureau of Land Management’s national office.