Colusa County has faced a reduction in ambulance services before, but for the first time in more than 20 years, local emergency responders say that in another month, there will simply not be enough ambulances to go around, period.
Beginning on Nov. 15, Enloe Medical Center will reduce services from one 24-hour ambulance and one 12-hour ambulance serving Colusa County to just one 24-hour ambulance to serve a geographic area of 1,200 square miles with a population of about 22,000 people.
“That’s going to be (just one ambulance) for 24 hours a day, and it’s really going to cause a problem for us in Colusa County,” said Sacramento River Fire Protection Chief Jeff Winters.
Winters, along with the other fire chiefs believe the path to ambulance sustainability lies in the creation of a special tax assessment district. “We have to start somewhere, and we have to start now. Four or five years down the line, we will be in jeopardy of losing the only ambulance we have or will have, and we will be down to nothing.”
Enloe notified Sierra-Sacramento Valley EMS, the 10-county Joint Powers Authority that has oversight on emergency medical services, in a letter last week that providing two ambulances at the current deployment is economically unsustainable.
“Colusa County’s payer mix has a high proportion of government payers with reimbursement rates that fall well below the direct costs of the program on a per transport basis,” noted Enloe EMS Director Marty Marshall.
Marshall said that the cost per transport is $1,360, with the average reimbursement just $670 per transport from insurance; $589 from Medicare, and $174 per transport from Medi-Cal.
“The current deployment plan, call volume, payer mix, and reimbursement rates are causing Enloe to lose more than $400,000 annually in Colusa County,” Marshall said. “Due to the magnitude of the operating loss, we have no choice but to eliminate the second ambulance.”
Enloe has asked Colusa County Board of Supervisors to provide an ambulance subsidy or provide a second ambulance resource staffed with a mix of volunteers and fire firefighters
Board of Supervisors Chairman Kent Boes said the ambulance reduction is an issue the county has been working on.
“Currently, we are working on gathering a group of stakeholders,” Boes said. “The county and its partners are committed to finding a resolution to the situation and are diligently working towards that goal.”
The ambulance issue will be discussed at the board’s Oct. 22 meeting.
If stakeholders move forward with the formation of a special tax district, voters would have to approve it through the Proposition 218 process. The fire chiefs are looking at the mid-term election in 2022 to try and get on the ballot.
“I think one of the most important things we have to do is educate the public,” Winters said.
For the short term, Winters said fire officials would have to deal with the shortage and “pray nothing big happens.” ■