Commission, Classic Lifeguard discuss possible future of Iron County Ambulance

Iron County Commissioners Alma Adams (left), David Miller (center), and Dale Binkerhoff (right) read an outline of the proposal submitted by Classic Lifeguard Air Medical, Parowan, Utah, Dec. 8, 2014 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

IRON COUNTY — The Iron County Commission met with a representative from Classic Lifeguard Air Medical Monday during a meeting of the commission to discuss the company’s proposal for purchase of the Ambulance Service, currently a division of the Iron County Sheriff’s Office.

Wade Patten (left), program director for Classic Lifeguard,  talks to EMS Operations Sergeant, Ty March (left),  about the quality of different medical equipment, Parowan, Utah, Dec. 8, 2014 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News
Wade Patten (left), program director for Classic Lifeguard, talks to EMS Operations Sergeant, Ty March (left),
about the quality of different medical equipment, Parowan, Utah, Dec. 8, 2014 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

Talk of selling off the ambulance service to a private entity first began in September when the commission sent out a notice to EMS workers informing them of their intentions to begin looking into the private sector. Classic Lifeguard is just one of three bid proposals that were submitted to the commission in November; the other two were submitted by Gold Cross Ambulance, and a group private individuals.

At Monday’s meeting, Wade Patten, program director for Classic Lifeguard, met with the county commissioners to review the company’s history, discuss the finer points of the company’s proposal to take over the ambulance service, and answer questions from the commission about the proposal.

In 1988, Classic Lifeguard began as a small medical transport company in the Utah area, Patten said. It has since grown to serve parts of five states — Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and Oregon — and employ approximately 110 people.

We have a vast knowledge as a program of managing medical professionals, and transporting the sickest of patients,” Patten said.

While Classic Lifeguard works primarily as an air medical transport service, Patten said, the move to a ground-based ambulance service is one the company has been pushing towards.

Classic Lifeguard currently transports approximately 1,800 critical care patients each year, Patten said. Transporting such a large volume of patients has added to the company’s overall experience level.

During the meeting, Patten also addressed the county’s concerns regarding the future employment of current Iron County ambulance workers. Patten said he did not want people in the community to risk losing their jobs, and if his company were chosen, all current ambulance employees would transfer their employment to Classic Lifeguard.

We don’t plan on firing anybody,” Patten said.

Iron County Commissioner Alma Adams said there are concerns at the local dispatch center about a private company coming in and taking over, and asked that Patten address what Classic Lifeguard plans to do regarding ambulance dispatching.

If chosen, Classic Lifeguard would integrate with the local dispatch service, Patten said. There are a variety of ways the company could do this; one way would be to allow the Sheriff’s Office or fire department to assess the scene first before contacting the ambulance dispatch service for assistance.

“However, if the county feels like the local sheriff’s department needs to control all of that communication, we’d obviously figure out a way to make that happen,” Patten said.

There is tremendous value in keeping that control local, Patten said. If the county feels the current dispatch service is functioning well, Classic Lifeguard would not want to come in between that relationship.

If Classic Lifeguard took control, the outlying communities within the Iron County area would continue to be staffed by responders just as they are now, Patten said.

Classic Lifeguard would also begin taking steps towards engaging the community through different educational programs, Patten said. These programs would be free of charge and teach subjects beginning with CPR and seat belt safety, extending all the way up to critical care training.

We wouldn’t charge anybody for that because it benefits us when there (are) higher quality people working at the moment of the incident,” Patten said.

Patten also said that Classic Lifeguard continuously works towards providing the best care by using high quality equipment. The plan is to bring in the newest and best equipment if the company is chosen.

Some examples Patten gave of the high quality equipment included a new video laryngoscope that is used to ensure patients’ airways are correctly accessed during intubation, that is, when a patient requires the assistance of a tube in order to breath.

Patten said that it is a common problem for emergency personnel to take too long when attempting to get the tube into a patient, but this technology dramatically decreases that time.

“Although it is an expensive tool, we’ve gone to, like, a 94 percent first-pass rate,” Patten said, “which means we just don’t miss anymore.”

In its proposal, Classic Lifeguard offered two different options for the county to consider in their proposal, Patten said.

In the first option, the county would lease all ambulance assets over to Classic Lifeguard. The company would provide a quarterly payment to Iron County of 10 percent of their collected revenue for five years, after which Classic Lifeguard would own all of the licenses for the ambulance service.

In the second option, Classic Lifeguard would purchase all ambulance service assets and equipment, after an appraised amount was set by a third party, and would pay a one-time fee for the ambulance licenses.

Near the end of the meeting, Iron County Commissioner David Miller proposed an alternative option to Patten and asked if Classic Lifeguard would entertain the idea of going through a trial period of six months to a year during which Iron County could evaluate the company’s service. After the evaluation period, the county would again negotiate with Classic Lifeguard regarding their future.

Patten said he would be interested in pursuing that option, but that Iron County would most likely need to go with the lease option for purchase to ensure that Classic Lifeguard would not put a large sum of money down for the ambulance service up front.

He would also be concerned about transitioning all current ambulance employees over to Classic Lifeguard, Patten said, only for them to be out of the job if the company is not chosen to continue on after that trial period.

“That would be kind of rough on the community,” Patten said. “Other than that, absolutely.”

Other options for the ambulance service

After a meeting of the Iron County Coordinating Council on Nov. 19, the area’s mayors sent a letter  to the Iron County Commission, asking them to consider giving the Iron County Sheriff’s Office a similar trial period as the one Miller suggested giving to a private entity. This would allow the sheriff’s office to implement budget cuts and take other measures in an effort to keep the ambulance service with the county.

Following Monday’s meeting, EMS Operations Sergeant Ty March said the current ambulance service also possesses the same high quality video laryngoscope that Classic Lifeguard presented.

Since November’s Coordinating Council meeting, March said, the current ambulance service has also taken steps to save money, such as no longer setting aside staff for long-distance transports to areas such as the Wasatch Front.

“Right now, we’re concentrating on covering the emergency calls,” March said, “If a long-distance transport goes out we send a mass notification out to available EMTs. If they can’t take it, then we notify Gold Cross.”

The Iron County Commission is scheduled to hear from representatives of the other two ambulance service bidders Friday.

The first presentation at 2 p.m. Friday is allotted for the private group consisting of Paul Christensen, Kyle Preston, Shane Bennett and Rich Preston. The second presentation is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. and will be brought by representatives of Gold Cross Ambulance.

The meetings will be hosted at the Iron County Commission Chambers inside the Iron County Courthouse located at 68 S. 100 East in Parowan. The meetings are open to the public and community members are encouraged to attend.

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  • Joe Smith December 9, 2014 at 5:50 am

    ambulance = $$$

  • My Evil Twin December 9, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I believe this is just a smokescreen put up by the county commissioners. I am betting that it is already a done deal, and Gold Cross will be in up there.
    I do hope I am wrong, but I’ll be surprised if I am.

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