A year and a half after Central Valley Fire District took responsibility for providing ambulance services within its boundaries, the benefits have been even greater than what Chief Ron Lindroth expected when he originally proposed the idea.
Lindroth said in 2018, the department collected over $500,000 for providing emergency medical services, and receipts for the same are expected to be in the neighborhood $650,000 for 2019. That’s almost 40 percent more than the $400,000 in annual revenues Lindroth projected when the change was being debated two years ago.
“We’ve exceeded every metric,” Lindroth said this week.
The higher-than-expected revenues can be attributed to an increasing number of calls as the population of the district increases, Lindroth said. So far this year, Central Valley has made about 850 emergency medical transports.
Prior to offering transport services, Central Valley paramedics responded to every emergency medical call in the district and were responsible for stabilizing the patients and preparing them for transport. At that time, the district contracted with American Medical Response to provide the transport services after patients were stabilized. Despite the services provided by Central Valley on scene, AMR received 100 percent of the revenues for each call.
“It wasn’t a good business model,” Lindroth said.
Nevertheless, Lindroth’s proposal for the district to provide transport as well as emergency medical services initially was met with skepticism, including from the Belgrade City Council. Naysayers predicted that the district would have difficulty collecting billed fees for its transport services, and that transport services elsewhere in the county would be compromised if AMR lost business within Central Valley’s 200-square mile service area.
“There were a number of challenges to the idea, but it made sense by any metric for Central Valley to provide both on-site and transportation services,” said Belgrade City Manager Ted Barkley, who has dealt with similar issues in other municipalities elsewhere during his career.
Based on that experience, Barkley urged the city council to ask more questions while the idea was being debated in 2017. He was more direct with the Central Valley Fire Board as it pondered whether to go ahead with the idea.
“I will tell you, without any qualifications on my part, that this is the best decision,” Barkley told fire board trustees before they voted to go adopt the proposal in August of that year.
Lindroth said that contrary to some predictions, the district collects almost 70 percent of what it bills for emergency medical services rather than the 40 percent it had been told it could expect during the discussion stage. Most of the payments come from patients’ insurers.
“It’s been a very successful endeavor,” he said.
The additional money that Central
Valley is collecting from emergency medical services will be used to improve emergency services in the growing district, Lindroth added. Salaries for career firefighters at its satellite station in Four Corners currently are being funded by a three-year federal grant of about $1 million. When that grant runs out, proceeds from the emergency medical collections will continue to cover the cost of staffing that station, he said.
The additional revenues also will ensure the district’s plans to build a new four-bay station in the vicinity of Thorpe and Grant roads in about three years will come to fruition, Lindroth said. The majority of the estimated $3 million to $4 million cost of the new station will come from other sources, but about 10 percent is likely to be covered by emergency medical and transport revenues.
Both stations are important to ensuring the best possible service to citizens, Lindroth said, because “when you can have firefighters dispersed throughout the district, it cuts down on response time.”