IRON COUNTY — The Iron County Coordinating Council came together in a formal meeting Wednesday to discuss concerns regarding the Iron County Ambulance service and review the possibility of privatizing the service.
The council — made up of the members of the Iron County Commission and mayors from the cities of Iron County — met in the Enoch City Offices in Enoch. To begin the meeting, Connie Robinson, president of the council and mayor of Paragonah, allowed Iron County Commissioner, David Miller, to begin the discussion.
Having received three different bid proposals for the ambulance service, Miller said the Iron County Commission was still going through the proposals and that the purpose of the meeting was to share information.
“We don’t have a decision yet,” Miller said. “That’s part of the reason we have been anxious to get together so we could give this feedback back to all of (the council).”
Miller said that at a previous Iron County Commission meeting, the commission reviewed the proposals that had been submitted, as well as some of the concerns submitted by the mayors on the Coordinating Council. Some council members took this time to reiterate these concerns, as well as new ones.
Maile Wilson, the Mayor of Cedar City, said the state of Utah requires ambulance services to meet a certain quality of care. She was interested to know how far above that level of care Iron County wanted the ambulance service to be, and if a private option were chosen, how the commission would go about deciding that level.
In response, Miller said it was all a matter of knowing the set budget for the service and how much the county could afford. Before a decision on quality of service can be made, officials must consider all the different options; much like a person deciding to go shopping for a new car.
“Before I go shopping for my car, I’m going to say I have a certain budget,” Miller said. “I’m not even going to go into a Mercedes-Benz lot until I know I have enough money to go buy (one).”
Wilson also said she had concerns about an independent report put together by an outside consultant for the Iron County Commission. She said the report contained multiple typos and errors of information and that she was concerned about how much weight the report was being given in the ambulance discussion.
H.C. Deutschlander, Mayor of Brian Head, said he thinks the ambulance service should be considered a public service, no different from law enforcement or a fire department.
In response to Deutschlander, Iron County Commissioner Alma Adams said the reason the ambulance is not held on the same level as the two others is because we live in a democratic-republic and not under socialism.
People don’t set their houses on fire to take advantage of the fire department or commit more crime to get better police services, Adams said. People would, however, take advantage of a service like the ambulance. Even now, some Medicare and Medicaid recipients call for an ambulance when it is not needed.
“I think that’s why it was set up the way it was and has to be … paid for by the user,” Adams said. “I think we would really be crossing a line we don’t want cross in this country … if we went into a totally free ambulance service.”
Following Adams’ remarks, David Cameron, a paramedic for Iron County in the audience, stood and offered a rebuttal to the statement. Cameron said he shared all the commissioners’ conservative values and beliefs, but did not agree with Adams.
The United States Constitution calls for the government to “provide for the common defense” Cameron said. This is something that members of the law enforcement do when they respond to an incident, as well as the fire department when a home is on fire.
“When you’re having a heart attack, are we not considered part of that common defense?” Cameron said. “It’s not socialistic to have everyone in the county pay $10 to cover the cost. Everybody pays it for million-dollar fire rigs no problem.”
Adams said they would “have to agree to disagree” because his opinion remained unchanged, but he respected Cameron’s right to express his own.
Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower was also called before the council to express his feelings on the state of the ambulance service and how the current service might go about making changes to save money.
Since taking over the ambulance service in 2012, the sheriff’s office has never overspent the budgeted amount set aside for the service, Gower said. The overages come from unpaid medical bills for the ambulance services.
“I have a hard time taking blame for some of that …,” Gower said. “I don’t control people not paying their bills.”
The Sheriff’s Office is also looking into other ways to cut back on expenses, but there are some things the service has to do by law, Gower said. These include transporting behavioral disorder patients from the area to other facilities in northern Utah located in Provo and Ogden.
If left in the hands of the Iron County Sheriff’s Office, the ambulance service could be properly managed, Gower said. Gower also said he would support the installation of a council where managers of the ambulance could give updates or address concerns.
Iron County Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff said he wanted it to be clear that the steps the commission has taken have not been done to criticize Gower’s efforts.
“This is not a beat up on the sheriff,” Brinkerhoff said. “It never has been and it still isn’t.”
Following the meeting, Robinson said she thinks the issues brought up only help to spread knowledge of what needs to be done. While more details still need to be gone over, Robinson also said she thinks most mayoral members of the council would like to see the ambulance service remain in the hands of the county.
“If we can’t, whether we want to admit it or not, we’ll have to pick another choice,” Robinson said.
Lt. Jody Edwards, of the Iron County Sheriff’s Emergency Services, said the next step he would like to see the commissioners take would be to agree to give the current service a one-year test period. In this test period, service leaders could report to a group like the one Gower had suggested in the meeting.
“Through that process they could watch and monitor what happens very closely in regards to savings (and) services,” Edwards said. “After that measurement period, at that point they could make a decision.”
This proposal will be considered along with all the other proposals that have been submitted, Miller said.
While the decision for whether to go private or not remains with the commission, Miller said these meetings are important and do hold great value in the process because they allow for other viewpoints and discussions.
“What I think this meeting did today is it showed that we’re still in the deliberative process and we’re still taking input,” Miller said. “We’ve got some proposals we’re considering and now we want to just work towards what to do with what we’ve got.”
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