Meeting tonight on EMS merger in west Garfield County |

Meeting tonight on EMS merger in west Garfield County

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The Town of Silt is working hard to shed its role as provider of emergency medical services (EMS) to most of western Garfield County, on the theory that such services can be better handled, and better afforded, by the fire district that serves the same general region.

And the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, which would absorb the services of Silt’s West Care ambulance service, seems to be willing to oblige.

The matter is to be discussed tonight, starting at 6 p.m., at a public meeting in the New Castle Town Hall.

According to Silt Town Manager Besty Suerth, the town has been interested in divesting itself of responsibility for ambulance services largely because it has no tax base to support such services, adding that West Care operates as a self-sustaining “enterprise fund” that is expected to make do with the fees it collects.

But, Suerth said on Wednesday, the West Care ambulance service does occasionally appeal to the town for emergency financial assistance “when they fall short,” which puts the town in a bit of a fiscal bind.

The town also has expressed concerns that, while medical-care costs generally are on the rise, reimbursements from insurers for ambulance transport are declining, which could put the town in a further financial bind.

The Burning Mountains district, on the other hand, has its own tax base, and has indicated it is ready to take on ambulance services for the district.

Burning Mountains Fire Chief Brit McLin, at a meeting last July with the Garfield County commissioners, explained that his district, following an agreement several years ago with the town of New Castle, is in charge of 911 fire protection services covering Silt, New Castle and roughly 440 square miles of western Garfield County.

West Care provides ambulance services to roughly the same area.

“We feel we want to provide the best possible 911 EMS service,” said John Gredig, a member of the Burning Mountains fire board, although Burning Mountains is not expecting to take on the “inter-facility transport” function of moving patients from one hospital to another. That function may be retained by West Care, if West Care’s board of directors chooses to go private, Gredig said.

According to Gredig, the average resident of the district should not see much difference once the merger takes place, if it does. He said the fire district board is not planning to raise taxes to cover the costs of ambulance service, although that could change “depending on the level of service they [the district’s taxpayers] want to see.”

The various entities involved have been working on a new arrangement for more than a year now.

Both Gredig and Suerth said there are still a lot of details to be worked out, but Suerth said officials are hoping to have a draft agreement ready by the end of this year.

The actual transfer of services itself, she said, probably could not take place earlier than mid-2010.

The public is invited to attend tonight’s meeting.

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