PAROWAN – In a special emergency commission meeting Friday at the Iron County Courthouse, the final two of three groups vying for private acquisition of Iron County Ambulance services had their chance to be heard by commissioners.
The two groups heard at Friday’s meeting, Gold Cross Services Inc. and another consisting of four private individuals, were each given an hour to present their proposals and to answer any questions the commissioners had. The county commissioners previously met on Dec. 8 to hear a proposal from the third applying group, Classic Lifeguard Air Medical.
Color Country Ambulance Service
The group of four individuals, consisting of Paul Christensen, Kyle Preston, Shane Bennett and Rich Preston, submitted a bid for the ambulance service in November and have since chosen to go by the name Color Country Ambulance Service.
The company itself does not yet exist, but should the commissioners decide to accept the men’s proposal, steps would be taken to organize the proposed Color County Ambulance Service as a limited liability company, Preston said. Should this happen, Preston would become the sole owner of the company, with the other three individuals taking employed management positions within the service.
Preston and Christensen represented the group during their proposal to the commission Friday. First, they promised to in no way diminish existing services. The group plans to keep the existing infrastructure intact and work to expand services in the western part of the county, where there is a lot of rural housing with limited services available.
Commissioner David Miller asked Christensen – the proposed Color Country Ambulance operations manager – how he would be able to expand on the existing services and still maintain an operational profit margin.
In response, Christensen said one way to avoid increasing costs is training residents who have offered to volunteer as first responders until an ambulance arrives and paying them on a per-call basis.
“I don’t know if you know this, but I am from Newcastle and the Beryl area,” Christensen said. “I know for a fact that there are a lot of people that are more than willing and have responded on car wrecks and EMS calls – they are not EMTs, but they have been begging for EMT classes and training of any kind.”
Having volunteers close by who could address a serious health issue could mean life or death for a rural patient, Christensen said – especially when considering the response time it could take to get an ambulance into the area.
Another way the prospective Color Country Ambulance Service plans to expand existing infrastructure is by offering more CPR training opportunities to special interest groups, like the Boy Scouts of America and schools within the Iron County School District.
Additionally, Christensen said, he would allow newer trainees to get more hours in the field doing hands-on training. The difference between book knowledge and actual education is experience, he said; without experience, the book knowledge means very little in a real emergency.
“What is your proposal on how you would handle personnel?” Miller asked. “Would you transition all of them over at the same pay scale? Would you increase them, decrease them? I guess we’re just we’re concerned about them.”
Preston said he was unable to gain access to any of the payroll information for existing infrastructure for Iron County Ambulance employees. When he requested the information, Preston said, he was told it was public information and that he needed to “dig it up” himself.
The only paperwork provided to the prospective Color Country Ambulance Service by the county about any of the existing budgetary information was two sheets of paper, Preston said. One was titled “Fiscal Year Beginning and Ending” and was dated January 2013 to December 2013; another was titled “Iron County Ambulance Services” and was last updated in August 2013.
Preston and Christensen each said they were frustrated with the difficulty of accessing the proper information needed to create a legitimate budget, adding they would be happy to prepare a full budget for the commission if they could acquire information regarding the Iron County Ambulance Service’s current assets and expenses.
“We have not received the information,” Preston said. “We have no idea what the pay scale is, and when I’ve talked to you on the phone, you said,’If you want that information, dig it up – we’re not going to provide it for you.’ So, we can’t get the pay scale and we don’t know what the pay scales are.”
Miller said all of the information Preston requested is public information and should have been easily accessible with a little bit of research. Part of the application process for those placing bids on the ambulance service was examining each group’s ability to research the knowledge needed to present a proper proposal.
“We even told the ambulance stations to stay open and available to any group who may want to visit for an inspection or to do inventory,” Miller said. “They have full access to acquire all of the information they need to prepare, but we decided we were not going to do the groundwork for them – part of it was we wanted to see how these groups overcame the challenge.”
Typically, when a request is issued for acquisition proposals, Christensen said, all of the necessary information is made available to possible purchasers in a packet called an RFP (or Request for Proposal) to make sure all bidders are on a level playing field. The packet should include all of the requesting entity’s pertinent information and an outline of the entity’s needs and expectations.
“It’s: ‘Here’s our information, here’s what we would like. What can you do for us?'” Christensen said. “It’s a complete packet.”
Preston said he has been a business owner for decades and that business ownership has been in his family for generations. In all of those years, he said, he has never seen a new company acquisition bid handled without all of the cards being laid on the table first.
At this time, Preston said, he is unaware whether the other proposing companies — Gold Cross and Classic Lifeguard — were given any documents or information from the commission that he was not.
Gold Cross Services Inc.
After a brief break, representatives from Gold Cross Services Inc. presented their proposal. Their presentation included a PowerPoint outlining the experience they have running an ambulance service as well as the assets they would bring to the business if they win the bid.
Founded in 1968, Gold Cross has run privatized ambulance services for 47 years, and in that time, they have acquired 80 vehicles and currently employ about 400 people.
The vast territory Gold Cross already services includes Salt Lake City, Utah County, Uintah County, Juab County and St. George. With so many locations available, Gold Cross President Mike Moffitt said, employees would have greater options available to them if they were interested in relocating.
There would also be more opportunities for Iron County employees to spend time – a day or two, here and there – working in a faster-paced environment and acquiring more hands-on knowledge, Moffitt said.
According to their proposal, Gold Cross provides up to 45,000 transports a year, giving trainees ample opportunities to improve their skills through experience.
Iron County employees could expect stability in their positions should Gold Cross take the wheel, Moffitt said. It is the intention of those in charge to retain all current employees and also maintain or improve the quality of care currently available to Iron County residents, he said.
Some concerns were expressed about how Gold Cross personnel would be able maintain Iron County’s facilities with so much on their plate. Commissioner Alma Adams asked Moffitt to explain how his company would go about covering such a vast rural community when the need for services would be spread out over many miles.
Using Uintah County as an example, Moffitt said Gold Cross has provided first responder training to people residing in rural areas.
“We worked with the fire department and we also worked with the county sheriff,” he said. “The law enforcement side is, we trained them and then we furnished them with a (defibrillator) … we got first-aid kits for them and brought them into our monthly training and CME program so that they could stay current.”
The model Gold Cross is currently using sounded fast and efficient, Miller said, but remote places such as Brian Head — in the winter, when the population booms and risk of injury increases — were still a big concern for commission members.
“Seasonally, during the ski season, we’ll see as many as 20,000 people up there on the slopes, which increases the probability of incidences occurring,” he said. “I am concerned about Brian Head specifically during the winter season but also year-round as we focus our efforts as a recreation destination.”
The best solution to ensure adequate coverage for the Brian Head area would be talking city managers and establishing their needs first, Moffitt said. Beyond that, he said, it would be worthwhile to have a dedicated ambulance stationed in Brian Head, especially during the winter season.
Just outside the Iron County line is the town of New Harmony, which has traditionally been covered by the Iron County Ambulance. County commissioners wanted to know if Gold Cross would carry on that tradition or if they would transfer coverage to another jurisdiction, like Leeds or Hurricane.
Moffitt assured the commission that Gold Cross had every intention of taking on that existing coverage as part of the active territory they plan to service.
During the initial presentation, Moffitt did not have any complaints regarding a lack of information from the county. Later, outside of the meeting, he said that there was some initial confusion when he first received the asset list, but it was later cleared up through further research.
The commission adjourned from proposals for the day, stating they would follow up with each group that had put in a bid with any questions after reviewing the proposals.
At a regularly scheduled commission meeting Monday, the commission released a list of additional information they are requesting from the three applicants. This information – coupled with the proposals submitted in November – will give the commissioners more to consider when deciding the future of the ambulance program, Miller said.
These requested details include the proposed purchase price of the ambulance service’s real estate, depreciated assets, licenses, miscellaneous inventory and accounts receivable, as well as a proposed response time for each coverage area and an outline of their proposed run configurations.
Based on concerns brought up at Friday’s meeting regarding differing information in the lists given to the three parties, commission members discussed hiring a third-party company to conduct an inventory of the Iron County Ambulance service’s assets.
It was of utmost importance that all three parties who placed a bid for the ambulance service received matching inventory lists, Miller said.
The commission requested that each of the three parties – Classic Lifeguard Air Medical, Gold Cross Services Inc. and the proposed Color Country Ambulance Service – turn in updated proposals by the end of the business day on Dec. 23.
St. George News Reporter Devan Chavez contributed to this report.
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