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NF Ambulance seeks to become a special district

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Photo submitted This is the new home for the North Fork Ambulance training center. It is located at 110 East Hotchkiss Avenue in Hotchkiss. An open house is scheduled for May 12.

The North Fork Ambulance Board is considering changes to ensure emergency medical services remain sustainable into the future. North Fork Ambulance was established in 1969 for the purpose of providing emergency medical care and transport for the people of the North Fork valley and beyond. Beginning as an "all-volunteer" organization, it has operated for 49 years, growing and increasing its level of service and professionalism as the community has grown. The North Fork Ambulance response area covers approximately 1,550 square miles in and around the North Fork valley, reaching into Gunnison and Montrose counties. Ambulance stations and on-call crews are located in Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford to provide the fastest possible response time in the event of a medical emergency.

In 2015, a series of community meetings were held as part of our efforts to be responsive to community needs. At these meetings, the community identified three important goals for the service: (1) Maintain the fastest response time possible, (2) Raise the level of care, and (3) Become financially sustainable. To ensure the fastest response time possible, it was clear to the board that maintaining service from all three stations was key. An "on-call" labor model, consisting of part-paid and part-volunteer, is used effectively by 80 percent of the rural emergency medical service (EMS) agencies in Colorado. North Fork ambulance transitioned to this labor model when it began paying small stipends for on-call crews in 2009.

Through additional training and certification of several crew members, North Fork Ambulance has increased its level of care to Advanced Life Support. Simultaneously, grant funds were secured to purchase three quick response vehicles that carry the most highly trained EMTs directly to the scene of the emergency to assist and provide advanced care as necessary.

The third goal -- financial sustainability -- has been the most challenging. In 2016 and 2017, additional efforts were made to increase memberships and community sponsorship. We are all grateful for the 34 percent of residents and businesses who actively sup-

port North Fork Ambulance with voluntary memberships and donations; however, it is simply not enough to sustain the emergency service at its current level. In 1989, memberships paid for 71% of operating expenses. Today, due to rising personnel and equipment costs, along with decreasing revenues from insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, memberships only covers 20% of expenses. Through careful financial analysis and projections, the North Fork Ambulance Board has determined that the current financial structure must evolve for this vital service to continue.

The North Fork Ambulance Board has conducted extensive research, considered several options, and has determined that the establishment of a Special District with a small mill levy on property would be the most effective and fair way to ensure financial viability of this crucial emergency service. As with any taxing issue, the formation of a Special District and a mill levy to fund it would be decided by the voters in the area served. With the support of the people in the North Fork valley, and the County Commissioners in all three counties, it is the intention of the North Fork Ambulance Board to go before the voters in the November 2018 election to seek approval for the formation of a Special District to ensure that quality, timely emergency medical services continue uninterrupted in the North Fork valley.

The North Fork Ambulance's 10-year financial projection plan for a Special District encompasses maintaining a balanced and sustainable budget, including an allowance for replacing emergency medical equipment and ambulances, and the eventual expansion of facilities in all three stations. The plan maintains the on-call labor model and allows for increases in pay over time.

Fortunately, and to the credit of many years of conservative stewardship, the North Fork Ambulance has some financial reserves to serve as a bridge to public funding and to further improve our professionalism and services to the community. A terrific opportunity to expand our training capabilities presented itself recently in Hotchkiss and was quickly acted upon. The North Fork Ambulance Board voted unanimously to purchase the property at 110 East Hotchkiss Avenue to serve as a training center and offices for the Association. The training facility in Hotchkiss will make it easier for interested volunteers to acquire the necessary training as part of the Ambulance crew and the training facility can also be used to hold public classes on injury prevention, CPR training and other topics useful to the health and wellbeing of our community. Local businesses may take advantage of safety awareness classes offered for their employees to improve occupational safety and reduce their insurance premiums.

The North Fork Ambulance has served its community with efficacy and passion since 1969. It has evolved with the community to become not just an ambulance service, but an essential part of the health and wellness of the North Fork valley. It is only fair that financial support for this critical service be spread among all residents of the service area to ensure its long-term existence. The North Fork Ambulance Board believes the establishment of the Special District is a responsible and sustainable path to providing quality emergency care to our large, rural service area and encourages public support for the formation of the Special District for North Fork Ambulance this November.

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North Fork
North Fork Ambulance
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