IRON COUNTY – After a packed public hearing in Parowan Monday, the Iron County Commission voted to sell the county-owned ambulance service to Gold Cross Ambulance.
During its regularly scheduled meeting, the Iron County Commission allowed members of the public a chance to share their questions and concerns before the commission voted on its decision. So many residents showed up for the public hearing that the meeting was moved from the commission chambers into an upstairs courtroom at the Iron County Courthouse.
The meeting was crowded to the point that some attendees chose to sit in folding chairs in the outside hallway.
Prior to speaking on the ambulance issue, Commissioner David Miller made a motion to announce that he would like to see money that has been set aside for commissioner pay increases to instead be spread to other areas where the county could better use it. Commission Chair Dale Brinkerhoff seconded the motion, with Commissioner Alma Adams not in attendance to vote.
When opening the meeting to public comment, Brinkerhoff said the ambulance issue has been an “emotional roller coaster” and the commissioners have worked to find an option that is best for all involved.
The opinions shared during the public hearing covered both sides of the issue, with some residents in favor and some opposed to selling the ambulance service.
Those who were against it voiced concerns about the quality of care, the number of ambulance units Gold Cross Ambulance would staff, and how problems would be handled by Gold Cross should they arise.
“If you go to cutting the service from four ambulances that are ready to go at any time to two … someone, eventually, is going to die,” Clay Allred, an Iron County paramedic, said.
In response to other comments that privatization would help continue the growth of big government, Allred contended that people often confuse what is going on at the federal level with what is going on in local government, and local government is where these type of things are important.
“If I pay taxes,” Allred said, “I want fire, EMS, police and roads.”
Before leaving the podium, Allred added he was happy to hear the commission members vote against increasing their own pay. At a time when money is supposedly tight, he said, talk of raises has caused some aggravation.
In support of ambulance privatization, Iron County resident Don Young said it was important for people to realize the EMS service’s problem was a lack of accountability, and it was the fault of those who have managed it; it is not the fault of the EMS workers themselves or the quality of care they provide, he said.
Iron County mayors had the chance to go a different route and choose other proposals from the commission by taking partial responsibility for some of the overages, Young said, but the mayors turned it down. He questioned whether the mayors understood the costs were for services provided to citizens living within their cities and not just Iron County in general.
“When you have dug a hole and you’re over your head and trying to get out, you stop digging,” Young said. “It’s time to stop digging.”
Former Iron County EMT and emergency room worker Ethan Bunker said he favored privatization because the current system has not been run in a fiscally responsible way. In contrast with Young’s comments, Bunker said there are some issues with the level of care from the EMS workers.
“I don’t think our service is as good as it can be,” Bunker said. “I know it’s not.”
Following the public comments, Brinkerhoff said he wanted it to be clear that the commission extended options to the area mayors, including one option in which they would implement an ambulance board comprised of nine representatives and would agree to take on the overage costs and “make the county whole” for the coming years. These proposals, he said, were rejected outright by the mayors in their previous meetings.
In response, Iron County EMS worker Danny Abbott and his wife, Heather Abbott, stood up in the audience and said they thought there was some confusion between the commissioners and mayors about the three proposals, and that the mayors made their decision thinking the proposal meant something else.
Brinkerhoff disagreed and said he made himself clear to the mayors. Kanarraville, he said, was the only city willing to accept the proposal and pay its share of the overage costs.
In a statement released prior to the meeting, Adams wrote that out of the multiple options available, the proposal from Gold Cross Ambulance was the one he felt the most comfortable with and would choose.
Before sharing his choice, Miller said he wanted to take a moment to thank Sheriff Mark Gower and the other workers at the Iron County Sheriff’s Office for all they have done since the office took over the ambulance service in 2012.
“In that time frame, (the sheriff) stepped up and his whole office stepped up in many ways, and we appreciate that,” Miller said. “But, we are where we’re at.”
Miller then said he was in favor of the Gold Cross offer and that he thought it would best address the county’s financial issues as well as protect the health and well-being of those living there.
Miller made a motion that the commission accept the proposal presented by Gold Cross, with the condition that the commissioners meet with the company’s representatives to discuss final details regarding the sale of buildings and land connected to the ambulance service.
Brinkerhoff seconded the motion in favor of Gold Cross and said Adams’ vote would not yet be officially counted until he was present to give it, though he had indicated in a written statement that he would choose to support Gold Cross. Following the vote, Brinkerhoff called the decision unanimous and then called for a recess.
While the decision wasn’t what he was hoping for, Lt. Jody Edwards, of the Iron County Sheriff’s Division of Emergency Services, said he felt extremely thankful to have been given the opportunity to share his opinions through the entire process. He also said he hopes to assist in the transfer to Gold Cross and help make the change easy for the people of Iron County.
“I will do everything within my power, or any power afforded me, to ensure that Gold Cross is a complete success because their customers are our citizens – the same citizens I’ve served for the last 25 years,” Edwards said.
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