Durango Fire awaits new ambulance for mental health-related transports

By Reuben Schafir, Durango Herald

The Durango Fire Protection District (DFPD) is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new ambulance to be used specifically for long-range transports. A majority of patients must be transported to locations with greater resources, such as Grand Junction, Denver or Colorado Springs, because they often require in-patient mental healthcare.

The Durango Fire Rescue Authority will use $275,000 from La Plata County's $10.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to purchase the vehicle. However, the arrival date of the ambulance is unknown since global supply chain shortages have led to a delay in the construction of ambulance chassis nationwide.

The ambulance will replace a unit purchased in early 2019. Although DFPD typically keeps ambulances for seven years, the department logged over 190,000 miles on the unit in less than four years and has decided to replace it.

La Plata County Commissioner Matt Salka said all three county commissioners were supportive of the expenditure. “Public health is an important matter for all three of us, and so when this proposal was brought forth, to us it was a no-brainer. It was needed,” Salka said. “We were gladly able to help, especially using American Rescue Plan Funds.”

DFPD and Mercy Hospital established the Inter-Facility Transport (IFT) program in October 2018 and received such rapid approval, there was no long-range ambulance available at the time. “They [Mercy] were meeting their part of this community need and the part that really wasn’t being met was the ground transport,” said EMS Battalion Chief Scott Sholes.

Before the establishment of the program, patients had fewer and less optimal options for support. In the best scenario, Axis Health System would provide transportation with a counselor. In the worst instances, patients would be transported in patrol cars, by air or not at all. Sholes also noted that in dire circumstances, patients would be transported by a private, Montrose-based ambulance service that billed aggressively.

Photo inside a fire station with a fire truck parked on the left and an ambulance on the right.
Photo inside one of the DFPD stations. Photo by DFPD from their Facebook page

“We got in the middle of it and said, ‘This is our community, we owe it to our community to have a solid program that is affordable to everybody involved, that is the right level of care for the right patients, and we did it,” Sholes said. “I’m very proud of the service that we have been providing here for the last few years. Now I just want to make sure we continue to pay for it.”

The contract between Mercy Hospital and DFPD stipulates that Mercy will reimburse DFPD for any accrued personnel costs associated with transports in exchange for DFPD providing the vehicle and staff members. “We’ve used it two to three times as often as we anticipated we would,” Sholes said. “... Our intent was to enter into this new program with the commitment of this initial capital expense ... but down the road we would need to seek other funding to replace those units. It just happened that the need came up faster than anybody ever thought.”

The program completed 109 long-range transports in 2019 and 2020, 151 in 2021 and is on track to hit last year’s numbers again by the end of 2022.

The ambulance – both the one currently in use and the incoming vehicle – is stocked and configured identically to the department’s nine other ambulances. When the unit has not been scheduled for a long-distance transport, the department occasionally uses the unit to respond to nearby emergencies.

DFPD retains a separate group of EMTs for the unit who work 12-hour shifts and are not required to have any experience fighting fire at the time of hire. In line with the department’s unique safety protocols for the unit, its staff is not required to be on duty at night because policy prohibits night tranports. Each trip receives a safety score before the department accepts a transfer, taking stock of factors such as distance, weather and patient condition.

“We put safety first and foremost,” Sholes said. “Now we just want to get them in a new ambulance.”

Republished from the Durango Herald. Serving the heart of Southwest Colorado. Read the original article here.

You've successfully subscribed to Moodfuel
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to Moodfuel
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Unable to sign you in. Please try again.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.
Error! Stripe checkout failed.
Success! Your billing info is updated.
Error! Billing info update failed.