The Garfield County ambulance service saga continues |

The Garfield County ambulance service saga continues

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Emergency management officials are continuing to hammer out the details for providing an emergency ambulance system for the area around Silt and New Castle next year.

In fact, officials are working on two new ambulance services, created to fill an impending vacuum with the demise of West Care, the area’s existing ambulance service.

One service, operated by the Burning Mountains fire district, will handle 911 calls to get the injured or the ill to the hospital.

Another, private service has been approached to take patients from one hospital to another, officials say.

What appears increasingly unlikely, however, is a county-wide ambulance district, which was once suggested as an answer to Garfield County’s need for general ambulance services.

The county-wide district idea was floated by emergency services officials from the Silt and New Castle areas last July, in the midst of discussions about what would happen to the West Care ambulance service.

West Care, which has been operating as an “enterprise fund” within the Silt town government, has been providing ambulance service to the towns of Silt and New Castle – and the surrounding countryside – for several years.

But Silt recently decided it wants out of the ambulance business, and West Care, which has operated with a combination of paid employees and volunteers, is about to be folded into the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, which is almost all volunteers.

Around July 1, 2010, or before if it can be worked out, the fire district will begin handling 911 calls within the district boundaries. Fire Chief Brit McLin has pledged to maintain current service levels, without raising taxes.

And the county-wide ambulance district idea? It has all but disappeared, according to Dale Hancock, an administrator with Garfield County.

The Garfield County Commissioners instructed Hancock, director of the county’s general services agency, to take the idea to a meeting of the county’s Emergency Medical and Trauma Advisory Council, which oversees the licensing procedures for ambulance services.

But at the EMTAC meeting, Hancock said on Thursday, area fire officials essentially rejected the idea.

“Basically, we said, ‘What’s broke?'” recalled Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Mike Piper, explaining that once Burning Mountains assumes 911 service in its district, all of the fire departments in the county – including Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Parachute – will be running their own 911 ambulance services.

Creating a new, county-wide district, he said, “would be a duplication of services” unless the fire districts agreed to disband their ambulance services, “and that’s not going to happen.”

The only remaining question, Piper said, is how to be sure that there will be an “inter-facility transport” (IFT) system for moving patients from one hospital to another – a critical component of emergency services that has been handled for years by West Care.

But as of Jan. 1, according to several officials interviewed for this story, West Care will be out of the IFT business.

There have been reports that a Montrose-based ambulance service, Transcare, is scheduled to take over the IFT function, which Hancock confirmed on Thursday.

He said the service is preparing to undergo the necessary permitting, inspections and other procedural requirements in the next month and a half, and should be ready to roll by the Jan. 1 deadline.

Deb Weipking, at Valley View Hospital, confirmed on Friday that she has been talking with Transcare, but said no agreement has been signed.

Dustin Dodson, an administrator with Grand River Hospital District, said he has been discussing IFT with Transcare, as well as with “some other potential providers … for quite some time.”

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