Fire officials discuss adding ambulance service in valley

Upfront costs could be as much as $50,000, but chief says service would save money in the end

KINGMAN - Golden Valley Fire Chief Paul Hewitt said the district hopes to decide by January whether it will pursue providing its own ambulance service.

Doing so would require applying for a Certificate of Necessity, currently held by River Medical Ambulance Service. The process of appealing for a transfer of the CON would be lengthy - anywhere from six months to two years - and could cost up to $50,000 in legal and administrative fees.

Hewitt makes the case that the transfer would be worth it in the end, and that the department could provide faster response and ultimately make it so a patient wouldn't be charged for the portion of the transport fee not covered by insurance. River Medical charges a base fee of $1,247, of which insurance covers a varying portion.

River Medical officials attended a special meeting Tuesday in Golden Valley where district officials discussed their options. John Valentine, general manager for River Medical, said his company has been serving Golden Valley since 1990 and that he has never gotten a complaint as far as response times.

The fire district's plan would call for one ambulance at each of the three stations.

Hewitt said those three ambulances would be dedicated to covering a 220 square-mile coverage area vs. the 21,000 square-mile coverage area River Medical is responsible for.

River Medical has a total of 23 ambulances serving Mohave County, two of which are stationed off of Hope Road in Golden Valley and can respond anywhere in the county. Valentine said anywhere from 14 to 20 ambulances are in service at a given time.

Hewitt said often times, his fire crews get to a scene faster than River Medical, meaning that their ambulance service could respond faster as well.

"We already respond," he said. "We're already there."

Valentine was unable to provide a response time for Golden Valley because he said that is not the way their data is collected. He said efforts to change the system would essentially result in added expense to the taxpayers with no improvement in service.

Hewitt says that while the district is still formulating its business plan, he foresees no needed increase to the district's tax levy in adding the service. He added that it's possible that by internalizing the service within the department, they wouldn't have to bill a patient for transport and would only seek to recoup expenses through insurance programs.

The district recently purchased two used ambulances for a combined $36,000. Their cost new would be more than $125,000, Hewitt said. The district would also look to hire at least three and no more than six firefighters cross-trained as emergency medical technicians at $50,000 each a year. All of the firefighters currently on staff are trained EMTs and three are paramedics.

"We already have in place a lot of the infrastructure for this," Hewitt said.

District Chair Marc Frederick said that no decisions have been made but that the department would be derelict in its duties to not explore all its options.

"We need to find ways to progress as a department," he said.

The Yuma Fire Department is in the midst of fighting for a CON from a private ambulance service. They have a hearing before the Department of Health Services at the end of October, which Golden Valley officials plan to attend.