Fire protection officials from Windsor, Severance and Johnstown said Wednesday they are concerned about a change to Weld County’s ambulance code that could keep them from contracting with another provider.
Weld County commissioners approved the first reading of the code change, which would give them “exclusive purview” of ambulance providers wishing to do business in the county and would establish a tiered licensing system. Fire authorities in the western part of the county said response times in their districts have been rising, and they would like free rein to find ambulance providers that could get to life-threatening situations more quickly.
“My concern is anything that would jeopardize our ability to work with our regional partners,” said Herb Brady, chief of Windsor-Severance Fire Rescue.
The public hearing follows a denial from the county last Friday for an offer from University of Colorado Health to provide ambulance services. The agency has been in negotiations with Windsor-Severance Fire Rescue since November.
In a Tribune column earlier this month, chief executive officer of Banner Health/North Colorado Medical Center, Rick Sutton, said Banner had proposed performance standards in a contract with Windsor-Severance that are higher than previous agreements.
Benji Kitagawa, director of medical services for Weld County, said the changes proposed in the code change had moved him to resign from his position.
“In April, commissioners made comments that they would like to get out of the business of EMS ... Why are they in the business of EMS today?” Kitagawa said.
Steve Main, manager of Poudre Valley EMS, which is now under UCH, said he was concerned that commissioners’ full control of ambulance contracts would bring uncertainty to providers with each new election and would allow the board to screen the open market.
“I also feel it would be possible to steer the tiers of services toward existing providers,” Main said.
The three levels of service in the code distinguish between primary care, transport of patients and standby service.
Commissioners questioned the fire districts’ authority to contract ambulance services that fell in unincorporated Weld County, asking each district to look into their codes, which might have changed when they were incorporated.
Brady said he worries the same thing will happen to smaller communities in Weld County that have happened to towns near Longmont, Boulder and Colorado Springs. When larger cities contract their own deals with ambulance providers, as Greeley did with Banner by requiring at least three ambulances in the city at all times, resources are drawn away from smaller communities, hiking up response times, he said.
Stephanie Buchholtz, president of the board of directors for Windsor-Severance, said Weld County’s average response time of
8 minutes will likely rise in her district if they do not find a provider that can respond to emergencies when ambulances are tied up in Greeley.
“I have a responsibility to make sure that ambulance service does not take 20 minutes when someone has a cardiac arrest,” she said.
Many who spoke at the meeting agreed to meet with commissioners to explain the needs of their districts before the second reading of the code change.
“Every firehouse wants an ambulance — we understand that,” said Weld Commission chairman Sean Conway.
He said some of the code change has been surrounded by misconception. Commissioners will still seek a recommendation from the director of public health on ambulance licensing, and the tiered code change is necessary because of the new federal health care law, Conway said.
Brady said Windsor-Severance has been caught between health care providers fighting for patients.
“What we have in our district is the Gaza Strip of the health care war,” he said. “We are in the middle of this thing.”