Over the past several years, you may have heard the North Fork Ambulance Board has been exploring its options to continue to provide reliable emergency medical services to the North Fork valley. If you haven’t heard, the community identified the following priorities through five public meetings held around the valley in 2015:
1. Maintain the fastest response time possible to every emergency .
2. Raise the level of care provided .
3. Become financially sustainable.
To address these priorities, the following actions have been taken:
First, to maintain the fastest response time it is vital we have adequate, trained staff available to keep the ambulances operating from all three stations, Crawford, Hotchkiss and Paonia. Up until 2009 the EMTs and Drivers were truly volunteers who gave freely of their time to be on-call in their community, responding from home, work or play at a moment’s notice. Today, in order to attract and retain crew members who are committed, competent and confident in serving their community’s emergency medical needs, North Fork Ambulance must deliver the necessary leadership, training, tools and support needed, as well as provide a financial reward. The first On-Call pay was established in 2009, at $1.50 per hour with success in the desired effect of attracting and maintaining adequate staff to reliably respond from all three stations. The On-Call system works and pay has risen to a graduated scale up to $6.00 depending on certification level. Investing in our crew members is essential, and expectedly, is not without financial consequence.
Secondly, raising the level of care has been met with enthusiasm by crew members who were willing to go back to school to raise their level of certification. Simultaneously, several grants were received to purchase three Quick Response Vehicles for the specific purpose of getting the Advance Life Support crew to the scene of emergencies quickly and safely. The North Fork Ambulance is now able to administer EKGs on scene and start cardiac medications, as well as manage pain, seizures and more, sooner than ever before in the North Fork valley. Early access to treatment is essential in beginning the healing process.
The third priority, that of financial sustainability, has proved to be a little more complicated. In 2015 the Board changed the Membership terms to capture medical billing income while still maintaining benefits for their Members. In 2016 and 2017 the North Fork Ambulance worked hard to increase Membership, with 34% of the residents and businesses becoming Members. Grants were written and many approved. Donations from the community and local service clubs were at an all-time high. All things considered, the budget remains at a break-even status. The Board realizes these efforts, while great, lack long-term sustainability.