University of Colorado Health officials outlined what many fire board members, community leaders and even the Weld County district attorney appeared to deem a golden opportunity in the search for the highest quality ambulance service moving forward.
But the search for a concrete deal is far from over.
Fire boards from Windsor-Severance, Johnstown and Milliken met at a joint work session at Medical Center of the Rockies on Thursday to see for the first time the nuts and bolts of a plan that could bring change to the region’s emergency services.
Under the proposal, a new ambulance jurisdiction — District 5
— would be added to the network of services offered by UCHealth throughout Fort Collins and Larimer County. The communities of Windsor, Johnstown and Milliken would each have an ambulance stationed at fire halls in each town. Crew leaders could use a fourth, floating ambulance as needed depending on call volume or emergencies.
All ambulances would be dedicated to the communities — not just borrowed from Fort Collins or neighboring cities.
In addition to the increased staff, UCHealth officials explained the deal would ensure quicker response times and more cutting-edge medical technology, including remote cardiac arrest data transmission and more state-of-the-art therapeutic hypothermia treatments. The affiliation with UCHealth — formerly Poudre Valley Health System — could also mark a step forward in interagency cooperation, which officials said was vital as the medical industry is forced to become more streamlined and efficient.
“We can do this — we’re not too small,” urged Windsor-Severance fire Chief Herb Brady. “We’re not second-class citizens. We are large enough to have the best emergency medical services in the world.”
Brady said the crux of the issue is about the vision moving forward — not necessarily dissatisfaction with the current provider, Banner Health.
With the growth of these communities, he said it was paramount to work together and that UCHealth had, to date, provided the most comprehensive and supportive administrative structure.
The four ambulances would be deeded to the communities, and UCHealth would maintain supplies, upkeep and staffing.
Under the current system, Windsor already has an existing, fully staffed ambulance stationed at the Medical Arts Centre on Main Street near King Soopers. Banner Health operates that facility and ambulance, which serves the community and doubles as a relief ambulance for the Greeley area.
Under the proposed deal with UCHealth, there would always be a dedicated ambulance in the community — as well as towns to the south — and resources could be shifted across the western part of the county to accommodate needs while maintaining top-notch response times.
That single measure — among the many indicators of quality service — has repeatedly been called into question during Banner negotiations last summer and when Windsor-Severance Fire Rescue entered into a letter of intent with UCHealth in November.
With the new system, officials promised city responses times — those within much of the Windsor area — of 9 minutes or less.
Under the Banner system, between May 7 and Oct. 31, response times to Windsor were within 20 minutes 93 percent of the time, according to data provided by Banner CEO Rick Sutton in December, surpassing the goal of 90 percent.
Gene Haffner, North Colorado Medical Center/Banner Health spokesman, said those were the latest figures immediately available.
“The bottom line is that we feel we proposed a reasonable contract that has some pretty high standards for quality of service and response times and quality of personnel,” Haffner said ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
Fire officials have said other providers have been unwilling to station full-time, devoted ambulances in the communities because of their smaller size.
Johnstown and Milliken fire Chief Ron Bateman saw it another way.
“The sleepy towns that we once knew are now gone forever,” he said. The population that would be covered by the proposed District 5 would be nearly 50,000 residents — roughly the size of Broomfield or Castle Rock.
“I’m not concerned with better,” he added. “I’m concerned with best.”
The issue has polarized segments of Weld County.
“I would like to encourage these fire boards to proceed with this in spite of what threats may be out there,” said Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck at the meeting.
Buck lives in Windsor and criticized commissioners’ staunch positions on the ambulance negotiations and what he described as Commissioner Sean Conway’s contradictory opposition about larger groups imposing their will on local governments, citing recent comments he made about tighter rules for the oil and gas industry.
“In Weld County, we shouldn’t have to live with a one-size-fits-all ambulance service,” Buck added.
After the meeting Conway stressed that he was at the meeting to learn instead of making a “political statement.” He joked that he was “pleased to know the district attorney is on the job.”