A new contract between the Blaine County Ambulance District and fire departments will define the level of service that departments are required to provide while addressing ongoing staffing problems.
"Our priority is to get someone who calls 911 and is sick or injured to medical care as soon as possible," Ambulance District Commissioner Tom Bowman said during a district meeting Tuesday at the old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.
Hammering out the terms of a contract is not as simple as it might appear. The contract requires the Ketchum Fire Department and Wood River Fire & Rescue to maintain their "current level of service," but never defines that level.
Bowman provided a list of what he believed the service entailed, including immediate response to emergency calls, vehicle extraction and water rescue.
One sticky wicket in the discussion was a provision that would require both Ketchum and Wood River to provide a backup crew when the first ambulance is out on a call.
Ketchum Fire Department Chief Mike Elle said he cannot guarantee backup staff, and Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman agreed.
Each fire department is required to keep one paramedic and one emergency medical technician on duty at all times. Elle said the number of simultaneous calls has increased and the level of volunteer staff has decreased.
Staffing woes have been exacerbated by interfacility transfers, when St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center requests an ambulance to move patients to another hospital.
Elle said his department provides the service, though it's not required and could reduce the safety of valley residents.
"Sending a duty person on a transfer deletes to service we provide for our own taxpayers," he said.
The hospital requested 173 transfers last year, about 2.4 percent of its patients.
Suggested solutions have included asking St. Luke's to pay the departments for these transfers so the fire departments can pay volunteers to be on standby. Elle said this method wouldn't solve staffing issues.
"It doesn't matter if we throw a $300 bone to an off-duty volunteer paramedic, they may have other commitments," Elle said.
A call to St. Luke's to determine whether it would be willing to accept a bill-for-service model was not returned as of press time Thursday.
Lassman and Elle agreed to present a rough draft of an amended contract to the commissioners by Tuesday, Sept. 13.
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org