ST. GEORGE – Drafts of an ordinance governing ambulance service and an accompanying dispatch agreement between the St. George Communications Center and Gold Cross Ambulance were unanimously approved by the St. George City Council Thursday.
The approval of the drafts brings an end to a two-year process started while Gold Cross Ambulance and Dixie Ambulance were engaged in a heated battle to determine which ambulance provider could best serve the St. George area. Gold Cross Ambulance eventually won the battle after the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services awarded the exclusive 911-emergency transport license to Gold Cross in April 2013 after Dixie Ambulance was forced to shut its doors.
For ambulance providers not managed at the municipal or county level, the Legislature strongly encourages that government entities dealing with private ambulance companies have ordinances and agreements in place that govern ambulance performance. Ambulance providers are also required by state law to have agreements between them and the dispatch centers in their exclusive service area.
Until Thursday, St. George and Gold Cross Ambulance had neither.
Two weeks ago a proposed ambulance ordinance was tabled by the City Council due to concerns raised by Gold Cross representatives. While generally supportive of the ordinance, they also said aspects of it were overreaching and potentially damaging to the company’s ability to do business.
Primary points of objection included the city’s mandating Gold Cross use the St. George Communications Center as its sole dispatch provider and the number of ambulances that had to be on duty for 911 calls.
Steve Urquhart, attorney for Gold Cross and a state senator, said the city was overstepping its authority in some areas since the state already regulates ambulance service. However, he told the City Council that Gold Cross is willing to enter into a mutual agreement concerning dispatch and number of ambulances, rather than deal with an arbitrary and potentially litigation-inducing ordinance.
City staff were subsequently instructed to work with Gold Cross to hammer out a mutually agreeable ordinance and dispatch agreement. The most recent draft of the latter was still being worked on by the two parties in the hours before Thursday’s council meeting.
“What you’re getting today is what we understand as a staff is the best situation we can get,” City Manager Gary Esplin told the City Council during the meeting.
Issues addressed, resolved
Gold Cross’ relationship with the St. George Communications Center has been a point of concern for city officials.
One of the issues has been Gold Cross’ use of its Salt Lake City-based dispatch center for some calls over the St. George Communications Center. These calls, which tend to be private calls relate to nonemergency, interfacility transports, aren’t always coordinated with St. George-based dispatchers and have led to a repeated lack of communication.
Another issue arose from Gold Cross using a GPS system on its ambulances that isn’t compatible with the system used by the St. George Communications Center. Because of this, dispatchers sometimes aren’t able to pinpoint an ambulance’s location accurately.
When Gold Cross originally took over ambulance service in 2013, Mike Moffitt, the company president, said it would staff four ambulances with two paramedics each throughout the city on a 24/7 basis. He asked the City Council to allow him to be to reduce that number to three ambulances if deemed necessary by the company, rather than making the number arbitrary via ordinance. Some members of the City Council originally balked at the idea of reducing ambulance numbers as it had been a part of Gold Cross’ original operations plan for the city.
These issues were resolved in the resulting dispatch agreement.
City Attorney Shawn Guzman read from handwritten notes, amending a previous version of the agreement, that Gold Cross agreed to use the St. George Communications Center as its sole dispatch center for 911 and nonemergency calls. However, a narrow-range of exemptions is permitted under the agreement, he said.
Gold Cross also agreed to begin using a GPS system compatible with the one used by St. George dispatch, as outlined in the agreement, Guzman said.
As for the number of ambulances, Gold Cross will continue to employ four ambulances on a 24/7 basis, yet can request that, that number be reduced at particular times as supported by data supplied by the dispatch center. The request must be reviewed and approved by the City Council, St. George Fire Chief, and two other city officials.
In exchange, the dispatch center will adhere to a quality assurance program related to call responses. Documentation regarding program compliance is to be provided to Gold Cross.
Mutually agreeable arrangement
The City Council debated the ordinance and agreement for around two hours, during which time council members asked St. George Police Deputy Chief Richard Farnsworh how the police and dispatch felt about the proposed agreement.
“I believe we’re all comfortable with what we’re hearing tonight,” Farnsworth said. Farnsworth, along with St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker, Guzman, and others had been working with Gold Cross up to the last minute to produce a mutually agreeable arrangement which appeared to have been met.
“Remember, council, two weeks ago, this is what you instructed staff to do,” Mayor Jon Pike said.
After further deliberation, the City Council unanimously approved the ordinance and agreement. Following the vote, Pike asked if anyone from the ambulance provider wanted to make any comment to the council.
“We are in agreement with the agreement and the ordinance,” Moffitt said, adding: “It’s totally our commitment to work with dispatch.”
Guzman said after the meeting that finalized drafts of the ordinance and agreement would be officially codified and signed into effect sometime early next week. The dispatch agreement will be in effect for the duration of Gold Cross’ time as St. George’s 911-emergency transport provider.
Officials from Intermountain Healthcare were also present during the meeting, as they operate an ambulance out of Dixie Regional Medical Center that also provides interfacility transport. Though not a provider of 911-emergency transport service, they also fell under the umbrella of the new ordinance.
- City Council tables ambulance ordinance
- City Council discusses proposed ambulance service standards
- Officials satisfied with Gold Cross service thus far, continue to evaluate
- Ambulance war: State agency rules in favor of Gold Cross
- Ambulance War: City of St. George rebukes state agency, calls for time for Dixie Ambulance
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