Ambulance service: ‘We need funding’

Uinta County Fire and Ambulance Chief Administrator Eric Quinney details concerns at last week’s city council meeting about keeping the local ambulance service funded and running. He said the county hasn’t contributed to the service in over 10 years, and volunteers are hard to come by, putting the program in jeapordy. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Uinta County Fire and Ambulance Administrator Eric Quinney addressed the Evanston City Council last week concerning the overall state and future of the ambulance service. On Tuesday, April 12, Quinney provided the council with printed information showing total runs by disposition, total runs by destination and total runs by type of call for each month for 2020 and 2021, both in Evanston and in Bridger Valley. He said he had already visited with the county commissioners.

“I just want to give everyone a picture of where the ambulance service is at and what might happen if we don’t make some changes,” Quinney said. “There is no state law that says an ambulance service has to be provided, and no tax dollars are set aside for one.”

Quinney explained that the ambulance service is self-supporting, and relies solely on the billing of customers; they can only bill if they take a person to a hospital or somewhere for treatment. If a person is dead or refuses treatment when the ambulance arrives, they can’t bill for the run.

He said the majority of their customers are on Medicare or Medicaid, and reimbursement from those agencies is set at minimum cost. Because of that — and with gas and diesel prices increasing — the ambulance service is barely breaking even and can’t afford a paid staff. They rely mostly on volunteer manpower, and Quinney said it is getting hard to recruit new volunteers. The fire department fills in and helps, but they also struggle to maintain enough staff, as their own budget has significantly decreased over the last several years.

In 2021, the Uinta County ambulance service recorded 2,020 calls and only 1,439 of those were ones they could bill for. The ambulance service can only bill on calls where a patient is taken to a hospital or for treatment. Quinney said a large majority of the calls they receive are to simply lift an elderly person from the couch to a bed, as Home Health personnel only get paid for one visit per week, and the elderly then use 911 for help. The ambulance service has to respond to all 911 calls, regardless of the situation, and only 76% of their calls provide payment.

“Our current model is unsustainable and we are worried that eventually we may have to shut down the service entirely,” Quinney said. “The county hasn’t helped us in over 10 years, and we can’t continue to rely on volunteers. Currently, we have only one paramedic on staff. We need funding.”

Volunteers get paid when they are on a call if the ambulance can bill for the run but Quinney said it is the time they are on call that they don’t get paid for. He said he is personally on call 25 to 28 times a month.

Washakie County has closed down their ambulance services for lack of funding, Quinney said, and Rock Springs is closing their doors so Green River will cover there and Fremont County is struggling.

Quinney said the agreement to respond to Summit County calls at Milepost 185 has created a problem, as Summit County is never in a position to reciprocate. Their dispatch makes duplicate calls to us and to their ambulance. When Uinta County answers calls for Summit County (Utah) then that county takes the patient and Uinta County has gone to a call they can’t bill for. Quinney said they are looking at negotiating with Summit County for a fee when they respond to their calls.

“I just wanted you to know that we can’t continue to drive 40 miles out of town just because the highway patrol wants us to check someone out, even though the person says they are OK,” Quinney said. “I just wanted to come and make you aware of what is happening.”

A discussion followed, and it was suggested the best possible solution was to lobby the legislature for state funds in order for counties to provide ambulance services. The question is where will the funds come from. Quinney said Governor Gordon has made emergency medical services a priority. Quinney suggested some city and county representatives along with the ambulance service set up a meeting with the governor and legislators.

Evanston Director of Engineering and Planning Dean Barker was next, to speak on the development of Lot 6 of Sunridge Community Center Plat off Yellow Creek Road.

“In 1984, when the council approved the final plat of the Sunridge subdivision, the agreement stated that the developer would be required to pay for piping the canal ditch that runs through a small portion of the lot,” Barker said. “I’m going to let the developer, Mark Hager of Hager Industries of Rock Springs, tell you his plans for the lot.”

Hager said he wants to build a tunnel style car wash on the front part of the property and at this time has no intention to develop the back part where the canal is located. Hager said his company owns three car washes; two in the Rock Springs area and one in Casper, called Hybrid Express. The designers are Western Engineers out of Rock Springs. Hager said he hires up to 12 employees with five being full-time and the rest work in the summer.

Barker said he didn’t think it made sense to pipe that piece that comes through Lot 6.

Mike Davis, president of the Evanston Ditch Company, said, “We’re not opposed to the change in the agreement. I would hate to see you put money into moving or piping that piece of the canal and then maybe have to take it out later. Eventually, we would love to have the entire ditch piped all the way out to where we live.”

Hager’s response was that it wasn’t feasible for a car wash to have the expense of moving or piping the canal. He had no intention to do anything at this time with the area where the canal is located anyway. 

Councilman Tib Ottley said that if Hager Industries isn’t developing that part of the land, why couldn’t they wait to do anything about the agreement until someone wants to develop it.

Hager said he didn’t think it made sense for any developer to be forced into an agreement like that 30-year-old one. His title company has a problem with the agreement regarding the ditch requirement.

Davis said he would have to have a meeting with the members of the ditch company to get their feelings about the canal at that spot; however, they have had no issues with the ditch where it comes out at Sioux Drive anyway. It can remain unlined.

“If all goes well, the ditch company has received grants and has hired an engineering firm to encase the canal behind Uinta Meadows subdivision, as it has been a nightmare for us, constantly cleaning it out and at our cost. We hope to start construction on the encasing of that part of the canal in 2023,” Davis said.

Evanston Public Works Director Gordon Robinson told Hager he would have to allow access to city equipment to maintain the canal and Hager responded that he would work with the department in order to provide access.

Mayor Kent Williams said he didn’t have any problems with removing that part of the agreement, and asked city attorney Boal if they did remove that requirement from the original agreement would the Ditch Company be hurt, or would there be any other negative consequences?

Boal said he couldn’t see any, and that Barker could write a letter asking that the council void the 1984 requirement for lining or moving the pipe on Lot 6 of Sunridge Community Center plat in the original agreement and leave the ditch as is. The easements would remain the same.

The council thanked Hager for considering an investment in the community, and closed the work session.

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