Grand EMS considers tax increase as rising calls strain services
Grand County Emergency Medical Services expects this summer to be its busiest ever.
In a yearly update to Grand County commissioners, Grand EMS Chief Robert Good said 2021’s calls are 11% higher than they were this time last year and 9% higher than the same time in 2019. EMS calls are on track to exceed 2,850 by the end of 2021. Currently, the highest volume for a single year sits at 2,600.
EMS relies on revenue from ambulance calls and mill levies to cover the department operations and its growing workload — but Grand EMS hasn’t seen a mill levy increase since 2003.
“My mill levies are not keeping up with the demand of calls,” Good said. “If we don’t try to head this off or get creative here in the next year or two, we’re going to find ourselves behind the eight ball really bad.”
In 2020, Saturdays remained the busiest day for EMS despite a lack of events due to the pandemic. Based on this trend, EMS staffs six ambulances on the weekends, five on Mondays and Fridays, and four Tuesdays through Thursdays.
But even weekdays are beginning to see spikes.
“That’s where we’re starting to see deficiencies,” Good said. “It’s not just weekends that are busy; it’s seven days a week for us.”
Good said there were 64 times last year when the ambulance system status dropped to one — meaning there was only one ambulance was available to respond because all others were occupied. He added that there were 14 times when there were no ambulances available and one time when a call had to wait for an ambulance to become available.
Good noted that these numbers are likely less than the actual amount because they are self-reported, meaning EMS members track these incidents as they happen.
Average response times held steady overall for EMS, going up just slightly from 10 minutes, 7 seconds in 2019 to 10:11 in 2020. Good also highlighted 2020’s response in Grand Lake’s district, where EMS managed to shave off nearly two minutes from 2019 to 2020 for an average response time of 10:13.
Granby’s district response averaged 9:49, Fraser and Winter Park averaged 10:24 and Kremmling averaged 10:24.
When it comes to whom EMS is serving, 56% of patients were Grand County residents, 22% were Coloradans who live outside the county, 22% came from out of state and 0.5% were international.
Out of county transports, such as moving a patient to somewhere like a Front Range hospital, are also on the rise for Grand EMS.
As for staffing, EMS saw turnover in 16 positions last year, equal to 39% of the department’s staff. Good said most cited pay as their main reason for leaving.
That turnover, paired with the ever-rising number of calls and the programs EMS supports, is leaving the department strained.
“We’re getting to the point where we need to have more staff,” Good said.
Additionally, capital needs are piling up at Grand EMS. A number of old buildings, including the Granby station, are in need of repair. While EMS has been able to upgrade a number of vehicles this year, a few more are reaching the end of their lives.
Good made it clear that he sees a mill levy ask as the next course of action.
“This is truly the best step for capital improvements and bringing on staff,” Good said.
County commissioners seemed to support putting a mill levy increase on November’s ballot, but they warned that Grand County voters can be quite reluctant to approve a tax increase.
The county plans to schedule a workshop in the coming weeks, which could help to determine the specific amount and wording of a mill levy question.
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