Rural Health Board: New ambulance service ‘not working’

BY LAURIE MORSTAD

During the meeting of the Rural Health Board on Dec. 6, board member Carl Meyer stated, “With the state’s help we have realized that this contract for EMS services is a very complicated and involved technical process and that the board cannot do by itself.” For the present time, no final agreement exists with Guardian ground ambulance, South Big Horn County Hospital District and South Big Horn County Rural Health Board, although Guardian continues to provide ground and air ambulance transport.

Rural Health Chairman Deb Rathbun informed the board that Clayton Dragoo, who owns Atwood’s Ambulance service, is challenging the suspension of his ambulance license. His formal hearing with the state will be on March 7, 2018. Before the state pulled its license, Atwood’s Ambulance was partnered with SBHCHD for ground ambulance service until August 2019. The state suspension meant that Atwood’s was in breach of contract as they were unable to provide the service. If Dragoo is successful in his challenge of the ruling, Atwood’s Ambulance could be allowed to transport.

Guardian Ambulance is hopeful to have a long-term contract eventually with SBHCHD, but concerns remain. The Rural Health Board requested Greybull Fire Chief Neil Beisler attend the board meeting due the fire department about their recent service. Beisler began by stating, “I am furious with what’s going on with the ambulance service. I supported the change. Guardian has top-notch equipment, staff trained at a higher rating, but things have tanked in the last week. If you were to ask me if I’m happy with how things are going, I’d have to say absolutely not.”

Beisler stated that in the first few weeks of Guardian’s service, they were pleased with the professionalism and response times to ambulance calls. That is no longer true, he said. Beisler gave an example where Guardian arrived at an accident site with only a driver. That driver, per Beisler, had difficulty removing the patient from the vehicle and then requested that a member of Greybull Ambulance, who also had responded on-site, provide a driver for Guardian’s ambulance for patient transport despite not being an employee of Guardian Ambulance Service. Bissler stated he was “about to explode on that one and I did call the board members right away. That should not happen, if they do not have the proper personnel, that call should have been declined.”

He said he had also spoken to Greybull Police Chief Bill Brenner, who also says response times have been steadily going up. Beisler stated that it took 22 minutes for an ambulance to arrive to an address on Fourth Street in Greybull. He felt that a ready-to-go, dressed, ambulance crew should be able to come four miles in much less time, as they have in the past. “I want to bring it to the attention of the board and the new ambulance administrators, this isn’t working.”

The board turned to John Adelsich, the hospital’s chief executive officer, present for the board meeting, for answers. Adelsich denied knowing of the recent problems. “Guardian has hired six full-time individuals for their crew and are in the process of on-boarding and training those individuals.” He states he will follow up with the provider to see what happened and prevent it from happening again. At that time, Deb Rathbun brought up another situation that occurred at SBHCH in which 16 minutes were spent before leaving the ambulance bay because of no driver. While Adelsich works on ending the problems, the board was very clear that this cannot happen. “We need a change; it needs to be rock-solid when we walk out of here tonight,” Meyer stated. “We must have an ambulance service that is responsive, immediate and professional and staffed.”

Adelsich assured the board that staff is ready and onboard and they believe that Guardian is ready to serve at the level of professionalism required. Adelsich believed the incident to be an isolated one and will “follow up on it to be sure our future needs are met at a level we all expect.”

As SBHCHD and Guardian works out this transition, the Rural Health Board is not ready to commit to Guardian long-term for ground ambulance. The consensus of the board is for all options for ambulance service be considered. They would like to employ SafeTech Solutions from Isanti, Minn., to do a feasibility study of options available to meet the need for ground ambulance. This is the same company that did the Fremont County feasibility study prior to signing a 10-year contract with Guardian Ambulance Service. Attempts to speak to a representative at the time of the board meeting was not possible due to technical issues with the video-conferencing at the time.

The Rural Health Board did approve payment of $16,000 to South Big Horn County Hospital District for their monthly payment for the hospital to continue to provide basic level EMS services for the south end of the county.