County discusses the Emergency Medical System
Approximately 10 months ago the decision was made in Emery County Commission meeting to make the ambulance service a stand alone department and remove it from within the Emery County Sheriff's Office. Since that time a part-time employee, Jim Gordon has been hired to be the Emergency Medical Services supervisor for the county. Sue Copinga has been hired as a trainer, and a supervisor has been appointed for each city where an ambulance is housed.
In the May 27 commission meeting the matter came up for discussion again due to complaints Commissioners Gary Kofford and Laurie Pitchforth have been fielding about problems within the EMS department. Commissioner Kofford made a motion to have the EMS department returned to the Sheriff's Office because it was floundering. But, Clerk Brenda Dugmore Tuttle said the item wasn't on the agenda as an action item, but rather a discussion item, so action could not be taken on the matter.
The meeting was open to public comment. Commissioner Jeff Horrocks was the commissioner who wanted the EMS to be its own entity within the county government structure. He disagreed with Commissioner Kofford's comment that the department was floundering. Commissioner Horrocks said, "We redid the department to make it better. We hired Jim Gordon for a part-time position, but he has been putting in a lot of extra time. I think the move we made is the right one. It's going to take some time to overcome obstacles and put it where we think it should be. I am going to continue to work with Jim for the best interest of Emery County."
Commissioner Pitchforth said the community is concerned with the state of the EMS department. "It's been trying to stand on its own for 10 months now. There have been some good positive changes, but there have been some real negative. I've had comments from citizens that it's just not working. There are liability issues with response time. A lot of people don't have the confidence in the program and I don't know if we can afford to wait."
Commissioner Horrocks said the emergency services are an ongoing program, the reason the move was made was so it would be the sole job of the person in charge. He said Sheriff Guymon has many other jobs to do and many other responsibilities. "This was done to lighten his load. I think we need to work on communication, but I don't think altering the course would benefit the citizens of the county," said Commissioner Horrocks.
Mary Wilmarth, Green River citizen and EMT addressed the commission. She said, if the prior system wasn't broken; then why fix it. Wilmarth gave her remarks that Green River is in real trouble. "I feel the citizens and travelers in the Green River area are in danger due to the lack of certified EMTs in this area. We have only four active EMTs at this time, down from 22, two years ago. There are many reasons for this deficit, but the commission either has not been getting accurate information, or they have chosen not to act on it. We need both short term and long term solutions, because this has been ignored until it is now at a critical state. This puts not only our citizens at risk, but also law enforcement and EMTs, and creates serious liability for this county. Green River is in a special situation. Our EMTs cover about four times the area of any other ambulance in the county. They are called out three to four times more often in the summer season. They deal with much more serious trauma from I-70 accidents. They regularly have five hour transports to hospitals. Uniform and meal allowances have been cut or eliminated impacting our EMTs more than other areas. All these factors add up to much stress and poor morale.
"Two solutions I would suggest at this time is to give it back to Sheriff LaMar Guymon immediately if he'll accept it. Under his direction morale was better, and the dropout rate was much less. We could expect very fast response times, and there were second teams at the ready when the first team was out. Now we can rarely expect to have a complete first team responding. We must wait an hour or more for a backup team from another area or another county.
"Next, trained EMTs need to be approached to see what changes can be made to entice them to return to service. New recruits must be encouraged to enroll in classes to be held as soon as possible. These classes must be offered in Green River and every means explored to make this affordable for them," said Wilmarth.
Pat Brady, Green River Mayor spoke, "We have a problem. Sometimes people wait for an hour for service and that shouldn't be happening. I know change takes time, 10 months is not a lot of time. We need better communication between the commission, Jim Gordon and Green River. We are at a critical state."
Work is being done to try to get some Green River intermediates back on board. They have one team in Green River and need at least two. Mayor Brady said the Green River citizens have a fear that they won't be taken care of in their time of need.
Gary Riches spoke next. He said he spoke not just as a Green River resident, but as a law enforcement officer as well. "I don't want to be sitting at the scene of a crash and wait for an hour for the ambulance. I have been in Green River for one year and I have seen it deteriorate. If the EMTs from the past are asked to come back, we need to make sure they're certified. I heard a class was scheduled for Green River and people were interested, but they were talked out of taking the class. They need to know what they're facing, but be careful about picking and choosing who will run on the ambulance. I think supervision is an issue. Green River is all by itself. It's unique. They have great county support, but Green River needs its own supervisor. They deal with the interstate traffic and the other cities deal mainly with the local populace. We need a class in Green River. We need to look at these situations. It's going to take awhile."
Dr. Travis Engar spoke next, he said he is the director of EMS for Castleview Hospital. He worked with the Sheriff's Office for four years and nearly a year under the new system. "I am familiar with what goes on. The problem with Green River started when Diane Chandler quit. It's been ongoing since then. I don't get paid for this job, I just want it to work."
Dr. Engar said he thought the change had been a good one because he needed a point person and he thought it was a good move, just to have one person to go to and one person who is able to get things done and can make decisions. Dr. Engar suggested the city of Green River step up and help with the costs of people who want to certify or recertify.
It was recognized that all EMTs are volunteers and it requires a huge commitment of time and money on their part. Dr. Engar encouraged anyone from Green River wanting to certify to get in touch with him and he would see that a class is held in Green River. The people of Green River need to step up. Dr. Engar encouraged the commission to hold off on making a decision regarding changing the EMS department back to the Sheriff's Office and just concentrate on getting the Green River issues fixed. He said Diane Chandler was worked to death with little compensation. If he can get a list of names to take the class he can get it going in four weeks.
Sheriff LaMar Guymon spoke, he said he would like to defend himself and the EMTs. The replacement supervisor for Green River was hand picked by Diane before she left. "I didn't ask to have the EMS taken away from our office. I wasn't included in the conversation where this happened. At this point, I am enjoying not having it. I ran the ambulance service for 35 years and started it in the county. We have had some supervisors who were good and some who were bad, but you don't know that until they start to work for you. I thought we worked well with Dr. Engar. Green River is a different situation.
"One of the problems is the back biting and slanderous talk, that is hurting this county. The work and what we've done in the past speaks for itself. We created this ambulance service from nothing. We lost Martin Wilson as the ambulance supervisor and at the time he left there were some problems that needed to be resolved. But, I wasn't give an option to fix it. We lost Diane Chandler the supervisor at Green River at the same time. Communication is a problem. All of the rumors, are like a school yard fight and I don't have time for it. There are serious problems. Our deputies don't want to go to work at night, because they're not sure if they'll have to be the ambulance and handle medical situations alone. Things can't continue the way they are in Green River," said Sheriff Guymon.
Kimberly Andrus said she was put in as the supervisor in Green River about two months before the switch. She feels a lot of blame was placed on her that was not her fault. She said she is willing to take the blame. She said anyone can come and check her morphine list, because she has it all and its accounted for. "I feel like I'm being attacked and I don't appreciate it," said Andrus. She said she had better rapport with the Sheriff's Office. "Personally I think you should give it back to LaMar. It's a huge problem and it needs to get fixed. You can't lay the blame on any one person and I think you need to go back to what worked," said Andrus.
Wilmarth said she thinks the county needs to chip in with funding for training EMTs.
Commissioner Horrocks said the county is offering those wishing to take the classes a deal where they would pay for a third of the expenses, the city where they live would pick up a third and the EMS would pick up the rest. The EMS will also pick up any recertification costs for those wishing to recertify. "We know it's a problem, but only two people before wanted to take the class. We are trying to recruit people and improve the service," stated Commissioner Horrocks.
A state representative spoke next and said the problems with rural ambulance services are similar across the state. But, she encouraged those involved to keep working on it, because it would get better. She said she is the regional consultant for the area and the state is there to help out, too.
Commissioner Kofford said he appreciates everyone for commenting on the situation with the EMS. He said the purpose of the discussion was not to fault find or blame. When the situation with the EMS came up 10 months ago the question was how best to run the department and what do we want in the future. The situation has reached a crisis, because volunteers have been relied on and their pay has been very poor. "I don't know how to encourage volunteers. Maybe we can look at putting more money into it."
Commissioner Kofford said there is a conflict between Commissioner Horrocks and the sheriff.
Commissioner Kofford said Green River does need its own point person. The commission needs to support those put in place in Green River and on this side of the county as well. The department head needs to make things happen. Kofford said we need to look to the future and the money needs to go to the EMTs doing the job. "This is an Emery County problem, Carbon County has been willing to help out when they can, but that creates problems for them. Jim has done an excellent job, and he's on part-time."
Commissioner Kofford said money is always an uphill battle. He believes better communication is needed and the problems have been ignored for too long. The sheriff for 34 years has put together a great service to the citizens of Emery County.
Commissioner Kofford said he would like the ambulance service returned to the sheriff. Commissioner Horrocks disagreed saying they shouldn't disassemble what's been put together. He said an EMT class was planned for Green River last fall. "I disagree with moving it, it needs to be on its own. We've laid a good foundation. I don't condemn the Sheriff's Office in any way. I disagree that we need to move it back," said Commissioner Horrocks.
Commissioner Kofford said he is worried about communication breakdowns and calls are issued from dispatch and no one responds. Commissioner Horrocks said dispatch and law enforcement and EMS need to work on the communication problem and work together; they just need a little more time to make it work.
Sheriff Guymon said when he was in charge, when anything went wrong, he was always to blame and there was one person on which to lay the blame. Now if things go wrong there is no one person to take the blame and the blame gets passed back and forth. He is still taking the blame for things which go wrong in a department which for the last 10 months he hasn't had anything to do with. It was not his decision to give up the EMS.
"I didn't choose to give it up. We were fixing any problems with the system, but I was not given a chance to get it fixed. All Jim did was take Martin's place," said Sheriff Guymon.
Commissioner Pitchforth said no matter what department it's under the EMTs need to work together for the best of the community. She thinks the EMS department and the Sheriff's Office go together and fences need to be mended as far as everyone is concerned.
In talking to Sheriff Guymon after the meeting, he said after Martin Wilson retired, he tried for six months to get on the agenda at commission meeting and get someone hired to replace Wilson. But, the item was removed from the agenda. For the last 10 months he hasn't had anything to do with the EMS department.
Sheriff Guymon said all his deputies are trained as first responders for a medical emergency. Nine of the Sheriff's posse members are certified EMTs.