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For the week of Mar. 15 through Mar. 21, 2000

Commissioners approve paramedic plan

"I can’t believe that most of my friends didn’t know we didn’t have paramedics." - Vicky Bates, Wood River Valley

Express Staff Writer

After a nearly hour-long presentation on paramedic-level emergency services (EMS) in Blaine County, the board of commissioners unanimously approved an operational plan that EMS providers say could save lives and allow a paramedic operation to support itself financially.

The approval was a major step in the ongoing work of EMS providers to upgrade emergency medical services, which they say are currently inadequate because they provide only bare-bones emergency medical technician (EMT) care to patients during a trip to the hospital.

Paramedics, they say, a major step up from EMTs, greatly increase the chance of survival for severely injured patients during transportation because paramedics can perform complex medical procedures and administer drugs en route, something EMTs cannot do.

Jon Moses, chief executive of the new St. Luke’s hospital, presented the Paramedic Program Operational Plan to the commissioners Tuesday at the old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

The plan asked commissioners to take four major "action steps":

  • Approve the 29-page operational plan for establishing paramedics in the county.

  • Authorize county EMS chiefs to meet and report back on billing and collection needs and on a fee schedule within 30 days.

  • Consider allowing an "ambulance membership" plan to be implemented, which would allow residents to pay a regular fee in advance for paramedic services.

  • Request EMS chiefs to meet and report back on existing cost efficiencies within 30 days.

St. Luke’s and the Sawtooth Emergency Medical Services Council, which Moses also heads, created the plan with Mike Williams of The Abaris Group, a California-based emergency medical services consulting firm.

Williams, who specializes in program delivery and design, including cost and revenue issues, spoke about the need for and affordability of paramedic services in Blaine County.

Of the approximately 1,000 ambulance calls the county responds to per year, 84 of those are "extreme cases" that would lend themselves to paramedic care, Williams said.

In responding to a question by Commissioner Mary Ann Mix, Williams said he was not sure how many of those 84 cases resulted in permanent disability or death.

On the issue of affordability, Williams said the program would easily cover its own expenses.

Estimated ongoing net revenue from paramedic services, at $146,000, Williams said, are higher than estimated costs, at $85,000.

Williams estimated start-up costs, including the costs of training eight paramedics, at $410,000. So far, he said, the Heinz Foundation and the Moritz Auxiliary of the Wood River Medical Center have raised $420,000 for startup.

The commissioners’ approval of the plan was also an important step in allowing four EMTs currently employed by the county to attend paramedic training in Ada County in April.

At a previous meeting with commissioners, Moses said he would not allow the EMTs to attend the program without the commissioners’ endorsement.

Citizens speaking at the meeting expressed overwhelming approval for the plan.

Vicky Bates said her son died six months ago because he didn’t get prompt medical attention while being transported to the Wood River Medical Center.

"It was very hard to sit here and listen to [Dr. Keith Severtson, director of emergency services for the hospital] talk about time frames," she said. "I can’t believe that most of my friends didn’t know we didn’t have paramedics."

Commissioners added as a condition to approval of the plan that local fire chiefs begin consolidating county and city EMS dispatch centers.


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