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Ambulances have busiest month ever

Matt Zalaznick

Officials at the Eagle County Ambulance District, which serves the eastern half of the county, says they need to expand crews and equipment to deal with a surging population’s illnesses and injuries.

“The potential problem is too many people getting hurt and more population needing more ambulances,” says Donna Barnes, Eagle County’s coroner and chairman of the Eagle County Ambulance District Board of Directors.

Voters May 7 will be asked to approve a property tax increase of 1.253 mills, bringing the District’s total mill levy to two mills, or $18.30 per $100,000 of home value.

The district’s 35 paramedics and EMTs responded to 456 calls in March, an average of 15 calls a day, said Lyn Morgan, general manager of the Ambulance District.

“You have to have so many people on board to handle a certain call volume,” Morgan says. “March was probably a pretty good month for business people, and we show that just because more people needed emergency medical service.”

The previous record month had been 403 calls in January, 2001. The district’s call rate has increased 8 percent each year over the past 10 years, and its expenses are expected to increase to $2.8 million in 2002 from $2.4 million in 2001.

The Ambulance District gets half its funding from property taxes and the other half from billing patients. The fees patients are charged have increased, but it’s not enough to keep up with growth in the valley, Morgan says.

“Our current mill levy, combined with modest fee increases, will not sustain us in the growth environment we find ourselves in,” Morgan says.

The Ambulance District and the Eagle River Fire Protection District have both been negotiating with the developer of the large Village at Avon to open a station at the yet-to-be-built shopping and residential complex in east Avon.

The Ambulance District’s two stations are now in Vail and Edwards. There are full-time crews at both.

The district has 35 paramedics and emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, to cover 550 square miles of eastern Eagle County from Vail Pass to Wolcott and up Colorado Highway 131 to Bond and McCoy.

Ambulances responded to 3,100 calls in 2001, compared to just 2,250 in 1995, but its mill levy, currently one of the lowest in Eagle County, hasn’t changed since the district was formed in 1982.

“A booming population in Eagle County, combined with increases in skier days and summer visitors, as well as an aging population, have all contributed to the growth in demand for our services,” Morgan says.

But not only are paramedics and EMTs treating a booming population but also an aging one, where the average has crept to 35. Hospital are also seeing an increasing number of ailing residents as opposed to recreational injuries.

March was the busiest month in the Ambulance District’s history but response times improved this winter due to the addition of a third ambulance crew.

Keeping response times to around eight minutes is a driving force behind the request for a tax hike, Barnes said.

“There’s a standard of a minimum amount of response time from when you call ambulances and when they hit your doorstep,” Barnes says. “We need to maintain that.”

Previously, the ambulance district had two full-time crews and an on-call crew on duty. The district was deficit spending to support the third crew, but if the property tax increase isn’t approved it will have to be cut, Morgan says.

“If the increase is approved, the third crew becomes a permanent fixture,” Morgan said. “If not, it will be one of the things we’ll have to cut.”

Aside from a tax hike, residents are voting to make sure an ambulance shows up at their home quickly when they’re sick or injured.

“They’re voting to make sure they have the service they want,” she said. “There are a lot more clinics in the valley, but if you need emergency medical service after hours and you need to get to the hospital the ambulance is it.”

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 606 or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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