IRON COUNTY — The Iron County Coordinating Council came together Thursday for its final meeting regarding ambulance issues in Iron County, and area mayors, emergency medical service workers and citizens shared their final concerns with the Iron County commissioners.
To kick off the meeting, the area mayors each reported on the decisions reached by their respective city councils regarding the commissioners’ proposals presented at the previous meeting. The mayors reported that all city councils voted against committing to provide any funding toward the deficit at this time.
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Some, like Parowan Mayor Galen Allred, said their councils would consider providing some form of funding for future needs of the ambulance service but would not assist in offsetting previous costs.
“We voted to support and help with future shortfalls,” Allred said, “but we don’t feel like it’s our responsibility for shortfalls in the past budget.”
Paragonah Mayor Connie Robinson said she and her City Council agreed that their town could not afford to pay money toward the current deficit but would also consider assisting with future needs as long as there was proper supervision.
“We would be willing to help, if needed,” Robinson said. “However, it would have to be well supervised.”
Clarifying some previous confusion regarding the commission’s proposals to the mayors, Iron County Commission Chair Dale Brinkerhoff said some of what he had said in the previous meeting may have been taken the wrong way, and he apologized to the mayors for that.
When Brinkerhoff told the mayors that a main priority was to ensure the county was made whole, he did not mean the county intended to recover the $2.1 million dollar debt that the service accrued over the last decade, he said. Instead, he said, he was referring to this calendar year, and the money would go toward covering any deficit from the service as well as equipment, insurance premiums, administration costs, public relations and payroll.
It is important for the council to remember that the mayors and commissioners are all on the same side, Brinkerhoff said. In the end, they all want the same thing.
“Ultimately, we’re all working (toward) the same goal and objective,” Brinkerhoff said, “and that’s to ensure the best service at the lowest cost in Iron County.”
Brinkerhoff assured the mayors that the commission has not yet made its final decision. They are still considering several options about where to go from here, but the decision needs to be made soon, he said. Brinkerhoff added that the commission respects all the mayors’ input on the matter and hopes they can still work together well regardless of what decision is made.
Parowan City Mayor Don Landes said he appreciated Brinkerhoff’s words and willingness to work together but expressed concerns about selling the ambulance service, as well as all its assets, to a private company.
“If something happens down the road, but then we’ve got someone owning them all, how do we get them back?” Landes asked.
In response, Brinkerhoff said the commissioners were concerned about that, too. Should they decide to sell the service, they would do their best to safeguard the county during the negotiation process, he said.
Another concern discussed at the meeting was raised by Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson, who said she was curious about who would be in charge of the ambulance service if the commission decided to form an ambulance board comprised of the area mayors and other stakeholders.
“I can speak for myself and probably the mayors,” Wilson said. “None of us are qualified to run an ambulance.”
Should the decision be made to form an ambulance board to oversee the service, Commissioner Alma Adams said, there would need to be some further discussion regarding who would be put in charge.
While all the questions and concerns brought up at the meeting were important, Wilson said, she was anxious to know when the final decision would be made.
In response, Adams said he appreciated all the letters and concerns brought in by the mayors and members of the community but said it was time for the commission to begin making its final decision.
“We will make a decision by our second meeting in February, most likely,” Adams said.
The council also called upon Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower to give his opinion on whether he would be open to continuing to manage the ambulance service if he was asked to do so.
“More than happy to do it,” Gower said. “When we get on the road that we need to be on … it’s a fairly easy service to run. It basically runs itself.”
Regarding the possibility of an ambulance board, Gower said, he would be completely supportive of that idea and was all for it from the beginning.
During the open discussion portion of the meeting, community members in attendance raised some concerns regarding how the billing process for the ambulance service is run, as well as a possible conflict of interest in having Gold Cross Ambulance in charge of billing.
Addressing that concern, Brinkerhoff said the commission has considered all the options multiple times regarding billing and has come to the conclusion that paying Gold Cross to do the billing is the best course of action for the county.
Two community members who work in the health care industry brought another concern forward to the council. One of them, Vicki Allred, an advanced EMT in Cedar City, said she was concerned about whether students studying to work in the EMS industry would be allotted the same opportunities under Gold Cross as they are under the current ambulance service.
Currently, Allred said, the ambulance service allows students who require ride-along hours for their classes to accompany and observe EMS workers in the field. Gold Cross does not allow these types of ride-alongs, she said.
“It’s better to keep what you have than trying to resurrect it later when you feel like this company didn’t do it right,” Allred said. “I think it’s important that you have honest and good people to deal with rather than a contract that lawyers will deal with later.”
Before the meeting was adjourned, Adams said if a decision is made regarding the ambulance service before the second commission meeting on Feb. 23, the commission will send notice of a special meeting to each area mayor.
“It was a good meeting,” Brinkerhoff said. “Now we just need to regroup and decide what our next step is.”
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