After a months-long battle that at times pitted fire officials against Weld commissioners and medical powerhouses against one another, University of Colorado Health got the metaphorical green light last week to take the reins on Windsor’s emergency services — signaling what many are calling a new chapter for western Weld County.
Weld Commissioners on Monday approved the final version of a code change that will ultimately give them final say in ambulance service providers within the county. However, the move eliminated some divisive language that caused uproar among fire districts in the region, ultimately signalling compromise across the spectrum by allowing smaller jurisdictions to contract with alternate ambulance providers.
With the final major roadblock cleared, UCH — formerly Poudre Valley Health Systems — is expected to take control May 15 of services from the existing provider, Banner Health, in Windsor, Severance, Johnstown and Milliken.
“We’re very excited about what their service means to our district,” said Stephanie Buchholtz, president of the Windsor-Severance Fire Rescue board. “Our citizens can be assured that they’re getting top-notch emergency care.”
Though the specific license has not yet been issued and final logistics are still in the works, Buchholtz said the major roadblocks appear to have been cleared and communities are actively working with the new provider.
In January, UCH presented to the boards its comprehensive plan to add a new service sector — District 5 — to its medical network. Included in the new deal will be a dedicated ambulance crew housed in Windsor’s Station 1, a crew dedicated to Johnstown/Milliken, an office and ambulance for crew chiefs and a fourth, backup ambulance that can be used as needed across the region. The added resources are expected to trim down response times for urban areas and be more closely integrated with the area’s fire crews.
The next three months of changes will mostly happen behind the scenes as UCH works to transition new emergency crews and equipment. Fire crews are also working to rearrange existing living and sleeping quarters. Perhaps more noticeable will be a series of training drills as fire and medical personnel work to integrate their medical skill sets.
“Our citizens shouldn’t notice a change other than the fact that the ambulances may look different,” Buchholtz said, adding that Banner will continue to serve the area until the transition is complete. “There should be no gaps in emergency coverage for our citizens.”
The new service is not expected to negatively affect services in Fort Collins because it’s a completely new addition.
“Poudre Fire Authority has a great working relationship with Poudre Valley Hospital Emergency Services/UCH,” said Patrick Love, spokesman for the Poudre Fire Authority, which works closely with emergency services in Larimer County. “We are not concerned about response levels as a result of their new venture with Weld County.”
For a period late in 2012, negotiations grew contentious as the county flexed its muscle and denied UCH from the region because its primary operating location was not in Weld’s jurisdiction. After lengthy talks with fire crews and officials during the ordinance’s three-reading process, commissioners ultimately found middle ground and put their concerns of spider-webbed coverage in the county to rest.
“The residents of Weld County can be very pleased by the way this process worked,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, who repeatedly questioned the merits of the communities’ actions. “The three-reading process worked well.”
Much of the fire districts’ concerns hinged on response times in light of the region’s exploding growth — especially in the Windsor area. Officials repeatedly stressed the talks were not because of unsatisfactory performance by Banner Health, and they were instead looking toward the future.
“It’s our hope that other towns and Weld County will be able to benefit from this because there will be more resources to go around,” Buchholtz said, adding that as a board, they are doing what they were elected to do — ensure residents have the best available service.
The exact transition plan for outgoing Banner remains uncertain, though it will continue to serve most of Weld County. The resources currently serving Windsor could eventually be deployed to smaller communities throughout the county, Banner spokesman Gene Haffner said.
“No final decisions have been made because the transition has yet to occur,” he said. “We need to see what is going to be happening with that.”
After Banner took over emergency services from Weld County Paramedics in the spring, the group struck a deal with Greeley, which officials have praised. Since then, an ambulance stationed primarily in Windsor has also backed up Greeley as needed. Despite the inability to find a similar compromise with Windsor-Severance, Banner continued serving Windsor and prided itself on transparency throughout the whole process, Haffner said.
“I would just hope that the sharing of that info with the community in the new arrangement would continue, and we certainly hope that the residents receive service at least at the level that we were providing,” he added.
Despite the at-times divisive battle, Windsor-Severance Fire Chief Herb Brady, expressed optimism about the system moving forward, repeatedly saying the deal was never about what logo was on the side of the ambulance, but rather what service best fit the future for nearly 50,000 residents in the coverage areas of Windsor, Severance, Johnstown and Milliken.
“Our partnership with UCH will allow all three fire districts to serve our citizens at a world class level,” Brady said. “At the same time we intend on maintaining a productive working relationship with Banner Health and all regional providers because emergency services do not function in a silo.”