The Burning Mountains-West Care deal proceeds |

The Burning Mountains-West Care deal proceeds

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

NEW CASTLE, Colorado – Residents in western Garfield County apparently aren’t overjoyed at the news that the ambulance service they’ve counted on for years may soon be absorbed by an area fire department.

But they seem to accept the idea, according to an official who attended a meeting on the subject at the New Castle Town Hall on Thursday.

Citizens at the meeting indicated they felt “they’d been left in the dark” about plans to merge the West Care Emergency Medical Services ambulance service with the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, according to Tod Tibbetts of Silt, who attended the meeting.

Tibbetts, a former Silt town council member who has been part of the negotiations for a couple of years, said the citizens had “some valid concerns about levels of service” if the merger goes forward.

But, he said, Silt is “still confident about the benefits of moving EMS service to Burning Mountains,” and he stressed that there had never been any intention to make the switch in secret.

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, which is a self-sustaining “enterprise fund” operating under Silt’s municipal umbrella, provides ambulance services to roughly the same area.

West Care’s annual budget, in 2008, was approximately $544,000, with expenses that came to about $526,000, according to Silt Town Manager Betsy Suerth.

The previous year, Suerth said, the town needed to kick in more than $21,000 to the ambulance service, in order to balance its budget.

And the Town of Silt, according to Suerth, is worried that rising costs, coupled with declining transport payments by insurers, could spell fiscal trouble for the service in the future.

And if that happens, she said, the town is worried it may become financially liable for a service that operates “well beyond our boundaries.”

Especially in the current economy, she explained, “politically, it’s a hurdle.”

Tibbetts said officials of the two service agencies, as well as Silt and New Castle, will continue to work on the plan, with the hope of accomplishing the merger in mid-2010.

At that point, according to ambulance manager Susan Taylor, “West Care would be dissolved” and an EMS provider.

“I feel that Burning Mountains Fire and West Care Ambulance could be a good match if it’s done in the right way,” said Taylor, who has been with the ambulance service for 16 years.

Left up in the air, however, could be the question of what to do with “inter-facility transports,” which involve moving a patient from one hospital to another due to differences in available medical treatments and services.

In recent years, West Care has provided that service for the entire county, through contracts with the various fire departments and hospitals. But Burning Mountains is disinclined to absorb the transport function as well as the EMS tasks, Taylor said.

Taylor added that she does not feel up to the task of starting up a private transport service, which most of those interviewed indicated would be the best route to take.

“You’re talking, probably, $100,000 [in start-up costs], to be safe,” Taylor said, explaining that she has neither the money nor the training to take it on.

She prefers the idea of a “transport district,” possibly in some configuration involving the area’s hospitals, which would require the approval of the voters.

Taylor said talks have begun with the Valley View and Grand River hospitals, as well as nursing homes that operate in the area and also would make use of the transport service.

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