For the second year in a row, Grand County Emergency Medical Services saw a record number of incident responses.
According to Grand County EMS director Andy Smith, the agency responded to 1,101 incident calls during the 2016 calendar year, breaking the old record of 1,017, set the previous year.
“Since 2005, we have increased 66 percent,” said Smith, adding that the upward trend appears likely to continue.
According to Smith, the breakdown for the 2016 calls was as follows: 10 percent were vehicle accidents, 14 percent were backcountry calls in off-road areas, including hiking and climbing areas and the Colorado River, 17 percent were inter-facility transfers that involved taking patients from one hospital to another, 9 percent were classified as other, which included activities such as standbys for fires or law enforcement activities, plus cancelled calls. The remaining 50 percent of the calls received during 2016 were those termed “valley” calls, or calls originating from within the Moab Valley, ranging from the Colorado River bridge to the Blue Hills Road south of town, and which did not already belong to one of the other categories or classifications.
Smith also said that 58 percent of the calls came from local residents, while the remaining 42 percent were from tourists and visitors.
“I think both groups (tourist and locals) experience similar mishaps,” Smith said. “Obviously, most of our backcountry calls are for tourists, but our medical calls are split fairly evenly.”
Smith said the busiest months of the year for EMS mirror those of Moab’s typical tourist season, from March through October.
“We slow down a little bit in November, December, January and February. However the most recent pattern has been an increase in calls during the off-season,” Smith said, noting that the agency still received an average of 65 calls per month during the off-season months in 2016, whereas the average in years past was around 50 calls per month during the off months.
Smith said that he and the rest of the Grand County EMS staff are working to ensure that staffing and equipment will be able to meet current and future demands.
“The majority of the ongoing financial need will be to recruit and retain high quality staff,” Smith said. “The next biggest challenge will be the replacement of our current facilities.”
Grand County EMS is a combination agency with a mixture of full-time, part-time and paid on-call employees, all of whom are EMT certified. Smith oversees a staff that includes two other administrative employees, three full-time paramedics who work rotating shifts, and 30 on-call employees who agree to be on shift for 12 hours at a time and get paid only when they are actually on an ambulance call.
“All of the EMS services around us are losing their volunteer staff and having to hire more full-time staff to replace them,” Smith said. “We have been very fortunate to find and keep some extremely high-quality folks and we hope to continue that into the future.”
Grand County EMS will get a much needed financial boost in 2017, thanks to the passing of a local sales tax increase in the November 2016 election. By a margin of more than 3-1, voters approved a 0.5 percent sales tax increase to support non-hospital healthcare in Grand County, specifically Grand County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the Canyonlands Care Center. The tax will amount to 1 penny for every $2 spent on goods and services, excluding gasoline and non-prepared grocery items.
“It does not solve all of the funding issues but it sure is a great start, and we are very grateful for it,” Smith said. “We were very happy to see all community support.”
According to Smith, the tax increase will go into effect in April and the first disbursement of funds will be sometime before the end of 2017. “This coming year, Grand County EMS is expected to receive about $255,000 in funding from this tax, and all of this money will go towards more staff,” Smith said.
Each year, the Canyonlands Care Center and Grand County EMS will need to approach the Grand County Council with their needs, whereupon the tax revenues will be split accordingly, Smith explained, adding, “EMS anticipates this money in the future going towards more staff and also replacing some of our aging equipment.”
EMS is already planning to add more full time staff in 2017 and is in the process of setting up a replacement schedule for its aging ambulances and equipment, Smith said.
“We are looking forward to working closer with our partners [Moab Police Department, Moab Valley Fire, Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Grand County Search and Rescue, National Park Service, and Moab Regional Hospital] this year,” Smith said.
Another area that EMS officials are working on is improving the collection rate for billed services.
“Grand County EMS and the county in general have always done a lot to be sure that bills are being paid, and as a government entity, it’s our responsibility to be good stewards of public money,” Smith said.
“Healthcare billing and funding in general is very complicated, our current collection rate is around 55 percent, which is actually very good even though it sounds horrible,” he added, noting that the county contracts with a debt collection service that follows up on unpaid accounts.
“I would be happy to sit down and explain the ins and outs of health care billing and collections to anyone interested,” Smith said. “I’m also involved at the state level to help change some of the rules regarding ambulance rate regulation.”