Colusa County will have just one ambulance beginning Friday after local officials opted not to subsidize the private provider while they work on more lasting solutions to the shortage.
The Board of Supervisors initially said they would pay up to $100,000 to keep Enloe’s second (12-hour ambulance) working through June, if the cities of Colusa and Williams and the Fire Protection Districts pitched in on the $239,000 short-term cost.
But as of last week, subsidizing Enloe Medical Center for ambulance services was a resounding “no” from Williams and Colusa officials, although both full City Councils plan to continue working on a solution to the shortage.
“While there is certainly interest in assisting with long-term solutions, there is no funding coming from either city to help sustain the current existing service of 1.5 ambulances,” said County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler, at the Board of Supervisors Nov. 5 meeting.
Tyler said the county ad hoc committee met with the fire districts, and that they shared the same sentiment.
Meanwhile, Colusa County has reached out to APTriton, a consultant, to do a revenue study to find out where the county stands, while efforts are underway to find a permanent funding stream, which will require a larger study later.
“That’s a longer-term project,” Tyler said.
Because there are no grants for ambulance services, officials said long-term ambulance sustainability would likely rely on passage of a special tax district as soon as 2022, but funding from that would be years away.
Because having just one ambulance to serve a population of 22,000 is gut wrenching, fire officials have asked Sierra Sacramento Valley EMS, who contracts for ambulance services in 10 counties, to demand that the only remaining 24-hour ambulance serve 911 calls only, and not be used to transfer patients from the Colusa hospital to Enloe Medical Center in Butte County or any other out-of-county facility.
“We’re resolved that we will deal with one ambulance for a while,” said Williams Fire Chief Jeff Gilbert. “If we really look at the big picture of what has been going on in the last year, we have not really been dealing with 1.5 ambulances.”
Gilbert said the Colusa rig performs as many as 200 inter-facility transfers each year, leaving just one ambulance in the county to cover emergencies, but that going down to just one ambulance would now make that practice too risky.
“We want to be assured that they are not taking our one ambulance over to the hospital to solve the hospital’s problems with transfers,” Gilbert said.
Local officials are, however, looking at other ways to ease the burden of having just one ambulance.
Colusa is considering converting a command vehicle into a basic ambulance for non life-threatening calls that do not require advanced care.
“I think that will work for Colusa since they are close to the hospital,” Gilbert said. “It will be trickier for us in the outlying areas.”
Maxwell Fire is also looking into a basic ambulance unit to service citizens within their protection district.
All intend to share the costs of the studies and toward finding a permanent solution, but have agreed not to subsidize the private industry any further.
“That is our long-term solution,” Gilbert said. “I hate to say it but I don’t think there is a short-term solution. Throwing money at them is just a Band Aid and we’re already wearing a tourniquet.”
Vicki Pinette, executive director for Sierra-Sacramento Valley EMS, said she would direct Enloe not to use the remaining ambulance for inter-facility transfers.
She also noted that Colusa County should not count on any back up from Glenn County, which is “in the same boat” and facing an ambulance shortage of their own.
The future of ambulance companies is reported to be in jeopardy across the country, especially in rural areas with large populations of Medicaid (Medi-Cal) and Medicare patients, due to low and stagnant reimbursement rates from the government, putting some 60 million people at risk of not having an ambulance when they call 911. ■