Emergencies in Dinosaur could become more drastic after August, potentially leaving those in need of medical care stranded for an hour and a half until an ambulance from Craig comes to their aid.
Rangely District Hospital, which has been running ambulances in western Moffat County for about 60 years, said it would stop providing emergency services because it’s no longer affordable for the district.
That means Moffat County has to come up with a fast solution or the people living west of Elk Springs and south of the Yampa River will have to depend on their own resources to get to a hospital if they don’t get service from The Memorial Hospital in Craig.
“Financially, we can’t do it anymore,” said Bernie Rice, manager for the cardiopulmonary department at Rangely hospital.
Benny Lujan, mayor of Dinosaur, said the residents of western Moffat County are entitled to Emergency Medical Services and that it should come from Rangely.
“I’d like for (Rangely) to work out something with us instead of being so hardheaded about it,” Lujan said. “It’s not just about Dinosaur. It’s about all of us.”
But Rice said it’s not that simple. He said the Rangely hospital has been under financial pressure and said they have lost as much as $25,000 per year by providing ambulance services to Moffat County.
“The number of (ambulance) runs have increased. The amount of money we are losing increased,” he said.
Moffat County had been paying $12,000 to the Rangely hospital to cover runs that were not reimbursed. The town of Dinosaur and Moffat County were supposed to split the bill.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said Dinosaur had neglected making timely payments.
Dinosaur “has been very slow at paying their side of the bill. (They) didn’t pay their bill for 2012 until last week,” he said.
Lujan said they had been keeping up.
“We’ve been making our yearly payments,” he said.
People living in Dinosaur pay taxes for TMH, so Lujan said Dinosaur shouldn’t be paying extra money anyway.
“They’re taxpayers of Moffat County. But (they’re) not close to the county seat,” said Jennifer Riley, chief of organizational excellence at TMH. “There’s not going to be an easy solution.”
Mathers said he is willing to negotiate with the Rangely hospital.
“If Rangely wants more money to perform that service, we should sit down and talk about it. But I don’t want to get held up. I want to pay our fair share,” Mathers said.
After decades of trying to find an effective way to resolve this problem, Rice said those at the Rangely hospital came to the conclusion it wasn’t their responsibility to take care of western Moffat County.
“Right now, we’re saying ‘We’re done.’ This is not a ploy. This is not a trick of us coming with hat-in-hand asking for more money,” he said. “Our taxpayers are subsidizing this. We have to put all our resources into our own.”
If Rangely can’t provide these services, it is unclear who could.
Riley said people living in western Moffat County can’t realistically turn to Craig in a medical crisis. Even with emergency vehicles, Riley said it still would take more than an hour to get out to Dinosaur or western areas along U.S. Highway 40.
“We got a lot of elderly people that live in Dinosaur, and that hour and a half won’t work,” Lujan said. “It’ll be a tough one to swallow if we lose someone because of that.”
Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said it is the county’s responsibility to come up with a plan.
“We need to figure out something that’s going to work for everybody,” he said. “We can’t have people getting injured and there being no way to get them to a care center or hospital. No ambulance services after Aug. 31 is not acceptable.”
Kinkaid said he prefers the county taking the lead and having Dinosaur run its own ambulance service.
Rice agreed and said Craig had even donated an ambulance to Dinosaur in the early 2000s.
Lujan didn’t know about the donated ambulance but didn’t even think that option was workable because of lack of funds and volunteers.
“Where we stand financially, no,” he said. “The problem is getting all the nurses.”
Kinkaid said he is optimistic about addressing this issue. He said redistricting is a possible fix. If Rangely got taxes from western Moffat County for the hospital, they could run EMS in that area. But it would take a vote from Rangely and Moffat County.
“I think Moffat County is willing to work out a solution,” he said. “We’re looking for a spirit of cooperation to make it right for people living in western Moffat County who need ambulance services.”
Rice said that he isn’t opposed to working with Moffat County to find a way the Rangely hospital could continue providing ambulance services, but that he can’t handle the current expenses.
“If you can’t afford it, your agency goes down the tube,” he said. “This is not a decision we take lightly. We’re sorry it came to this.”