IRON COUNTY — The Iron County Commission hosted a special meeting Monday to discuss concerns regarding the future of the Iron County Ambulance service and review proposals submitted for ownership of the service. The meeting precedes a public meeting that will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Enoch City Office at 900 East Midvalley Road, in Enoch.
In September, the commission announced they were considering privatizing the ambulance service due to years of deficit. The service had also accumulated approximately $2.1 million in debt over the last 10-15 years.
On Nov. 3, the commission released the names of the three bidders who submitted proposals for the ambulance service — Gold Cross Ambulance, Classic Lifeguard Air Medical and one submitted by four private individuals — and took the week to review the bids before publicly commenting on them.
Feedback from cities in Iron County
In the meeting, Iron County Commissioner David Miller said the commission had received several letters from mayors in Iron County, and read a summary of the concerns and comments that had arisen about the possible privatization.
“We have conducted extensive evaluations,” Miller said. “We’ve received feedback from community leaders (and) we’ve had outside, independent audit reports. We have a lot of information we have gathered.”
The comments and concerns addressed in the letters included worry about response times in the outlying areas of Iron County, maintaining the quality of service and suggestions of how to better fund the ambulance service. A letter from the Brian Head Mayor’s Office suggested an alternative funding option besides the current enterprise fund.
“Brian Head … considers the ambulance a public safety service, and suggests that it could be funded through the general fund,” Miller said in the summary. “Brian Head suggests controlling the ambulance as a public service, rather than as an enterprise.”
A letter from Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson suggested moving the billing system for the ambulance service in-house rather than spending money on a private company, Miller said in the summary.
Currently, Gold Cross Collection Services handles the billing for the ambulance services. Iron County Commissioner Alma Adams said the commission has spoken with Gold Cross about their services and that the commission remains happy with how they run the billing operation.
“It is expensive,” Adams said, “but we’re satisfied that the price was reasonable and that they (are) doing the best job that could be done. It would not be advantageous for us to take that over in-house.”
The Iron County Sheriff’s Office, along with leaders in the ambulance service, were both consulted prior to the decision to hire a private company for the billing service, Miller said.
Proposals for the ambulance service
Paul Christensen, Kyle Preston, Shane Bennett and Rich Preston
The County Commission first addressed the proposal submitted by four private individuals named Paul Christensen, Kyle Preston, Shane Bennett and Rich Preston.
In their proposal, Miller said, the group calls for a third-party appraisal of the ambulance service’s assets to determine their fair market value and any possible restrictions of those assets.
The second portion of the group’s proposal stated they would assume all operational control and responsibility of the service on Jan. 1, 2015. They would also pay the Iron County Sheriff’s Office a commission of 10 percent each month for the span of five years or until the fair market value of the ambulance service has been reached.
Classic Lifeguard Air Medical
The second proposal highlighted in the meeting was for Classic Lifeguard Air Medical.
“They have been transporting advanced life-support and critical care patients in the state of Utah since 1988,” Miller said. “During this time, more than 7,500 Utah residents have been transported at the highest point of critical care.”
A large number of those residents have been from the Southern Utah and Iron County areas, Miller said.
In a summary of their proposal, Miller said, all current employees of the ambulance service would transition over to Classic Lifeguard and the company would also take control of the billing services. All of the current ambulance service assets and locations would also transfer over to Classic Lifeguard.
Classic Lifeguard featured two options for the county to consider in their proposal.
In the first, they would provide a quarterly payment to Iron County of 10 percent of their collected revenue from the ambulance service for five years. After five years, Classic Lifeguard would own all the licenses for the ambulance service.
In the second option, Classic Lifeguard would purchase all ambulance service assets and equipment after an appraised amount was achieved. Also, they would pay a one-time fee for the three licenses.
“(Classic Lifeguard) did come up with a dollar figure for each of the licenses at $15,000 each,” Adams said.
Gold Cross Ambulance
The proposal from Gold Cross Ambulance was the final bid highlighted at the meeting. In a summary of the proposal, Miller said Gold Cross would utilize the current Southern Utah staff and increase staffing in Iron County though hiring new employees.
“They will work with city, fire and public safety officials to provide the highest quality and most reliable service to the county,” Miller said in the summary. “(Gold Cross does) not intend to create any orphan areas in Iron County. The quality of service in the area must be maintained or improved.”
To ensure service in the outlying areas of Iron County, Gold Cross would keep two fully equipped ambulances stationed near those areas — most likely stationed in Parowan and Beryl — and have at least four EMTs on call 24-hours a day.
In a summary of what the commission is trying to accomplish, Miller said they want to ensure the ambulance service has a high quality level of care and is available across the county.
He also said they would like to retire the debt the ambulance service has accumulated over the years and look towards service that doesn’t continue along the same financial path as the current one.
Miller also presented his own idea of a hybrid option for the ambulance service. This concept would allow a lease-purchase option of the ambulance service to a private entity for a one-year time period in which the county and communities could evaluate whether the company was a fit or not.
“It will provide a period of time to see what is working and not working,” Miller said.
Lt. Jody Edwards, of the Iron County Sheriff’s Emergency Services Division, said public involvement is important at these discussions and that he encourages community members to attend these meetings to become informed.
Employees of the current ambulance service do everything they can to ensure quality care, Edwards said, and the public needs to become aware of this issue at the risk of losing the service.
“They need to know … they have the finest ambulance service in the state of Utah for this demographic,” Edwards said. “We really do serve them to the very best possible capacity.”
Edwards also said it is his hope the commission will take some time to consider an analysis put together by the EMS operations sergeant, Ty March. The analysis goes over different ways the current ambulance service can save a lot of money and continue to provide their service.
Whenever a company comes into a service like the ambulance and does it for profit, people need to be very careful about what they are trusted to do, Edwards said.
“I think the bottom line on this is anytime something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” Edwards said.
The Iron County Coordinating Council — made up of members of the Iron County Commission along with the mayors and city managers of all cities within the county — will be hosting a meeting Wednesday at 1 p.m. to discuss the proposal as well as other concerns the city representatives may have. The meeting will be located at Enoch City Office at 900 East Midvalley Road, in Enoch.
Updated: Location of the Iron County Coordinating Council meeting changed to Enoch City Office.
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