Emergency services consolidation study inching ahead | VailDaily.com

Emergency services consolidation study inching ahead

Cliff Thompson

Appointing a three-person committee to study the matter, the board did not specify its terms or any reporting deadlines, however. The new committee will meet with a similar, still-to-be- formed committee from the fire district to explore the possibilities.

The consolidation of services is seen in some circles as a means of saving as much as $10 million in new buildings, shared administration and other services, but the ambulance board has not embraced it.

After all, the ambulance district is undertaking a $1.4 million remodel of its Edwards station. The fire district, meanwhile, plans to add another fire station as the county grows.

A matter of service

Thursday, a crowd of anti-consolidation speakers told the ambulance board consolidation would affect the high quality of the emergency medical service the district’s residents receive.

“This is a clear case of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Julie Rust, director of Vail Mountain Ski Patrol.

“There’s no comparison to the care here,” added Travis Martin, an emergency room physician at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. “This is one of the best emergency medical services in the whole state.”

Martin said there are three consolidated fire and ambulance operations serving Valley View Hospital, but there have been problems with the quality of that service.

“I’m not saying it can’t work, but why take a chance on merging the service,” he said. “They’re two different animals.”

Ambulance board member John Power, a proponent of possible consolidation with the fire district, said he’s interested in seeing what, if any, level of cooperation might result in a savings to taxpayers.

The fire district operates on a $4 million annual budget with 45 full-time and 85 part-time employees, while the ambulance district has a $3.2 million budget and 25 full- and 20 part-time employees.

Trauma specialist Chip Woodland of Vail questioned the wisdom of saving money if done at the expense of the quality of emergency medical care.

“When your loved one is having a heart attack or your baby is choking, are you going to be happy that you save (some tax money)?” he said.

Talks ongoing

Last month, the boards of the Eagle River Fire Protection District and the Eagle County Ambulance District met in a mildly uncomfortable meetings to discuss consolidation. Prior to the meeting the ambulance board received letters from the towns of Avon and Vail and from several metropolitan districts, prompting fears the pressure was part of campaign to force consolidation.

It’s clear, though, that the move to consolidate isn’t originating with the ambulance district.

“I’m not quite sure what this is all about,” said ambulance board member Karen Woody. “It looks like an orchestrated effort on the part of some body of people.”

She and ambulance board president Donna Barnes suggested there be a countywide merger of fire services rather than having separate districts in Vail and downvalley.

There are two avenues for consolidation: an initiative in which voters decide; and an intergovernmental agreement outlining an understanding of what will be done.

The two districts already share training and other operations, but they maintain separate facilities. Paramedics and firefighters often are on the same accident or fire scene.

Consolidation of services has been accomplished along the Front Range, Glenwood Springs and in other communities.

Power, a proponent of consolidation, said interest in the community has been higher than expected.

“I came from a hospital district where consolidation was very successful,” he said. “This is the first time we, as a board, have gotten together and I think they’re surprised at the level of interest there is in consolidation.

“There’s nothing sinister here,” Power added. “Those interested in examining this are interested in the taxpayer. The money that resides in this district belongs to the taxpayers. What’s the best way to allocate it?”

Barnes, Larry Brooks and Tom Kelley of the Western Eagle County Ambulance District are the three appointees who will be analyzing possible consolidation.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com.

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