ST. GEORGE – It has been over six weeks since Salt Lake City-based Gold Cross Ambulance took over 911 paramedic transport service for the St. George area. Though the transition was initially a bumpy ride with some “glitches” along the way as described by St. George Mayor Daniel McArthur, things appear to have improved overall.
“There (are) always problems when you change,” McArthur said.
“We were thrown in pretty quickly,” said Tom Burckhard, Gold Cross’ director of southern operations.
In a ruling hotly contested by Dixie Ambulance, Bureau of Emergency Medcal Services Executive Director Dr. David Patton ruled in favor of Gold Cross over longtime local ambulance provider Dixie Ambulance. In the document that outlined the ruling, Gold Cross was to be awarded the 911-transport licenses covering the City of St. George on May 1, 2013. Due to loss of staff to Gold Cross, Dixie Ambulance closed its doors on the morning of April 14.
Of its current roster, Burckhard said a total of 11 paramedics are former Dixie Ambulance employees.
Training for Gold Cross’ new hires, a mixture of veteran paramedics and rookies, were scheduled to begin on April 15. Instead, their training became the real thing two weeks ahead of schedule.
With the changeover, Gold Cross was placed under a microscope. Some people, upset with what they perceived to be a political game that killed Dixie Ambulance, began to watch Gold Cross with increasing scrutiny. It didn’t take long for the complaints to start piling up.
“You’ll hear stories,” McArthur said; and some complaints appeared to be more exaggerated than others, he said.
One particular complaint was brought to the attention of St. George News on April 18, five days after Gold Cross began operations.
A 911 call was made for an elderly woman who was experiencing a stroke. She was in the Tonaquint area and the ambulance sent to the scene passed right by the street it was meant to turn into. At the same time, Burckhard confirmed that another Gold Cross ambulance was passing by in the opposite direction to reach a new staging area. To the people on the street who made the 911 call, it looked as if the ambulance had not passed by once, but twice.
Despite missing the street the first time, the ambulance reached the scene within nine minutes, according to documentation provided by the St George Communications Center. The recognized industry standard response time for critical calls is nine minutes 59 seconds.
“I was made aware of the call that afternoon,” Burckhard said. Even if some of his personnel were still learning the layout of St. George, he said the incident never should have happened in the first place. Gold Cross personnel involved in the incident “owned-up” to the mistake and the issue was resolved, Burckhard said.
When responding to calls, Burckhard said relying on a GPS unit is discouraged. The mapping system isn’t always up-to-date, nor does it always give the ambulance driver the quickest route to a call.
“We rely on the driver’s best judgment,” he said.
Despite the mishap involving the Tonaquint call, Burckhard said he felt the transition has gone pretty well overall. As for complaints, he said, “I have not heard anything after the first couple of weeks.”
McArthur: They’re improving and we’re watching
“I think it’s getting better,” McArthur said.
Still, the city is watching. At the city’s instruction St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker is overseeing the creation of a Standard of Care Agreement between Gold Cross and the City of St. George. The agreement is a list of protocols and standards that McArthur said will be “meaningful and measurable” so the city can gauge the performance of the ambulance service
Stoker said an initial draft of the agreement has been prepared and is currently being reviewed.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” McArthur said. “We’ll work out the kinks.”
As for Gold Cross, “they’ve got to get used to our system,” he said.
In the end, McArthur said the city wants the best service for the people of St. George possible, and the standard of care agreement, once finalized, will help see to that.
Dixie Ambulance originally held the 911-paramdic transport licenses for Washington City and Santa Clara as well. After Dixie Ambulance closed, BEMS stepped in and made arrangements with other local ambulance providers to cover Dixie Ambulance’s former area.
Washington City has been split between Hurricane City Fire and Ambulance and Gold Cross. Hurricane covers Washington north of the Washington Parkway (Interstate 15 Exit 13), while Gold Cross covers all of Washington south.
So far things appear to be going smoothly, Washington City Manager Roger Carter said. As for any public worries about Hurricane City Fire and Ambulance and Gold Cross, “at this point,” he said, “we haven’t heard any real complaints.”
Ultimately Washington City will have the option to choose what it wants to do concerning future ambulance service, as the current set up is meant to be temporary until a more permanent solution is found.
“It’s really a great situation for us because it gives us a chance to evaluate how (the ambulance) service is.” Carter said. “Washington City will be analyzing what direction it wants to go.”
Burckhard said a Gold Cross ambulance is currently staged between St. George and Washington near Costco. Evidently, that area – which includes the Green Springs Drive-3050 East intersection – has proven to be one of the primary producers of emergency transports in the region, he said.
Santa Clara is currently covered by Ivins City’s ambulance service, which also expanded its service to cover Snow Canyon State Park, Shivwits, Gunlock and Motoqua on an emergency basis, Ivins City Manager Dale Coulam said.
It has been estimated that the Ivins ambulance service gained an additional 105 possible transports with the addition of Santa Clara, with another 100 transports anticipated from the new Southern Utah Veterans Home.
Burckhard said Gold Cross will be acting as a backup for the Ivins ambulance, as well as Enterprise and Hurricane as needed. It will also be covering communities along state Route 18.
Integral part of the community
“We want to be an integral part of this community,” Burckhard said. “We can do something good here.”
He also said he believes Southern Utah can have “the best care system in the state,” even one rivaling or even surpassing that found in Salt Lake City as each area agency continues to work together for the benefit of the public.
Currently Gold Cross deploys five ambulances throughout the St. George area during the day and four at night. These vehicles are rearranged as needed when one or more ambulances respond to a call. Burckhard said this was done to ensure St. George remains adequately covered at all times.
Being a part of a larger company also allows Gold Cross to bring in additional manpower if necessary. This was done during the recent Ironman 70.3 event, Burckhard said. However, it is anticipated the local branch will be able to handle next year’s event without outside help.
For individuals who may still cast a suspicious eye on Gold Cross in the wake of BEMS’s ruling, Burckhard said, “We want our actions to speak for themselves.”
Gold Cross put in an application to become St. George’s exclusive 911-transport provider in 2011, challenging Dixie Ambulance for the state-issued license.
Gold Cross’s president, Mike Moffitt, said the application was put in because Dixie Ambulance was “woefully inadequate” in the service it provided, which ultimately put it in violation of state law. After two years and a week-long public hearing concerning the matter, BEMS ruled in favor of Gold Cross on March 27, 2013.
St. George News reporter Alexa Verdugo Morgan contributed to this article.
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- Ambulance War: State agency rules in favor of Gold Cross
- Ambulance War: City of St. George rebukes state agency, calls for time for Dixie Ambulance
- Ambulance war: Eyes on the St. George City Council
- Ambulance War: Dixie Ambulance speaks out; STGnews Videocast
- Ambulance War: Gold Cross recommended over Dixie Ambulance
- Perspectives: Making sense of the ambulance war
- Ambulance war scapegoat? St. George Dispatch responds to hearing testimony
- Ambulance war: Broken system, dispatch delays? Decision pending
- Ambulance war: Contest for territory raises solvency, staffing issues at hearing
- Public support for Dixie Ambulance floods hearing
- Public hearing to discuss ambulance service in St. George; Dixie Ambulance receives negative audit
- Dixie Ambulance Voices its Opinion on Gold Cross’ Application; Gold Cross Says System is Broken
- Letter to the Editor: Consider the Cost
- Gold Cross could replace Dixie Ambulance if application approved
- Gold Cross Submits Application to Provide 911 Ambulance Services in St. George
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