Montera: The challenge ahead for Eagle County Paramedic Services
When you call 911 in a medical emergency it’s probably not the best day of your life.
It typically means you need immediate help.
In Eagle County, that call brings highly trained paramedic professionals in a rolling emergency room to your door in a hurry. It happens more often than you may be aware — 5,200 calls per year. Eagle County Paramedic Services operates ambulances from five stations (Vail, Avon, Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum) from Vail Pass to Glenwood Canyon, and Red Cliff to Bond, with highly-trained paramedics, communications and equipment.
Eagle County Paramedic Services (also knowns Eagle County Health Service District) ambulance crews work alongside law enforcement and fire organizations and provide very specialized medical services for people in need of help and transport to the hospital.
However, we do more than just emergency medical work. We also operate a unique community health program to help people who don’t have access to regular health care. In this case, we’re expanding the roles of paramedics to provide health services where access to physicians, clinics and/or hospitals is difficult or may not exist.
We provide a number of community services such as child car seat installation (by appointment), helping provide defibrillators countywide, participating in mental health initiatives, providing coverage at special events countywide, visiting local preschools and elementary schools for National Safe Kids Week, and giving presentations on topics such as occupant safety in motor vehicles, bike helmet use, and 911 access in an emergency. Camp 911 provides middle school children with the knowledge, skills and understanding of how to handle an emergency situation calmly and effectively in the absence of adults.
And we do more. We attend local high school career fairs to help inform youth of job skills, employment requirements and preparatory opportunities available to them before and after they graduate from high school.
ECPS is nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS) and is one of only four ambulance transport agencies, out of 200 in Colorado, to attain this rigorous accreditation. That means our crews are extensively trained, educated, and meet standards of quality control and medical compliance.
It takes money to do all this. Part of the tax bill you pay each year helps to support the district. It costs the owner of a home with a $500,000 price tag about $98 a year in property tax for this service, while the remainder of our funding is provided by ambulance user fees and insurance payments. Our property tax funding provides nearly three-quarters of our operating revenue.
Like nearly every rural taxing district in the state, our property tax revenue stream is constrained by the state constitution’s Gallagher Amendment that balances tax rates between commercial and residential properties. We also contend with the inevitable growth of operating expenses such as fuel, equipment and insurance that is beyond our control.
Insurance companies continue to trim payments to the district, too.
We’ve wrestled with this issue as the revenue tends to be reduced while the expenses continue to grow. Increases in the cost of fuel, training, insurance and equipment are beyond our control. New ambulances cost $250,000 each, and we replace three per year.
The district is projecting a net loss in property tax revenues by 2022, which assumes no growth in property tax revenues after 2020. We would like to get ahead of that trend before it happens and we will need to take some difficult cost-cutting.
In the coming months, we will keep you informed of what the district will be doing and we look forward to your comments.
For more information about what we do, please visit: http://www.eaglecountyparamedics.com
Christopher A. Montera is the CEO of Eagle County Paramedic Services