Weld County commissioners on Monday cleared a major hurdle on their proposed ambulance code change, finding middle ground with fire officials by allowing them to contract their own ambulance services.
When commissioners introduced the ambulance code change in December, some fire officials said they were concerned the change would prevent them from contracting with an ambulance provider that could offer a higher level of service.
The code change, which gives commissioners the final say on licensing ambulance providers and establishes a tiered licensing system, originally mandated that ambulance services have a primary base of operations in the county to qualify for a first tier license. But that would mean providers such as University of Colorado Health, which has been in negotiations with Windsor-Severance Fire Rescue and Johnstown and Milliken fire protection, would not qualify.
Commissioners said in prior meetings they had to keep in mind the well-being of the entire county. Allowing providers to choose what parts of the county they wished to serve would likely make it more difficult to find a county-wide provider, they said, because providers could “cherry pick” what areas to cover.
But following nearly two hours of discussion with fire authorities and emergency medical providers at the second hearing of the code change, commissioners agreed to change wording in the code that would qualify ambulance providers for a first tier license if they have a contract with a fire protection district in the county.
“I feel good,” said Ron Bateman, fire chief for Milliken and Johnstown, after the meeting on Monday. “Everything that I heard was great, in terms of allowing us some autonomy at a local level to make decisions.”
Commissioners also added language in the code that involves a recommendation from an EMS and trauma advisory council — an existing body that commissioners said should be revamped to serve as a third party that reviews license applications and monitors ambulance providers.
Weld County commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said that provision gives her confidence that ambulance services will be looked at from a county-wide perspective.
“We can ensure all of these providers are all engaged, and we are addressing it on a county-wide basis and not just on a district-by-district basis,” Kirkmeyer said. “I think (the EMS Council) is probably the best thing we did this morning.”
Tom Beach, fire chief of the Southeast Weld Fire Protection District, said his district works with three different ambulance providers — Banner Health, Morgan County and Platte Valley Ambulance Services. Two of those do not have a primary base of operations in the county, meaning they would be denied a first tier license under the original code change.
“They listened to us,” Beach said of the county commissioners. “If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have gone in the direction they did today.”
Todd Vess, spokesman for Windsor-Severance fire, said he, too, is optimistic of the changes.
“It sounds like everyone in the room has the same goal,” he said after the meeting.
While Windsor-Severance, Johnstown and Milliken have cited longer response times since Banner Health took over Weld County’s ambulance services last year, many fire chiefs say that issue predates Banner, and that they are happy with the level of service Banner paramedics provide. Even so, they said it is important they have the option to look into other providers if they feel they can improve response times that way.
Weld County commissioner Doug Rademacher said after the meeting that rural areas of the county also can form fire protection districts.
“This is a natural evolution of fire districts,” Rademacher said.