Many, but not all, spoke against ambulance privatization in afternoon hearing

A majority of the more than 50 people who attended this afternoon's public hearing were against the possible partial privatization of Fremont County's ambulance service. Some didn't say why, simply stating they were against the measure. A common fear voiced by the many speakers was Guardian, being a private entity, has a desire for profit and what that could mean for potential patients. Some fear it could mean exorbitant costs or reduced quality of service to meet cost needs. Many spoke against the proposed contract because Guardian wouldn't fully take it over, meaning the county would in-part be subsidizing the private service over the five year length of the contract. A couple said they were OK with privatizing if the county got out of it altogether. Classic Lifeguard CEO Tony Henderson said his company put in a bid that was for outright purchasing, without any county subsidy. "The way this contract went down has been kind of messy," he said, later calling it "fishy." The contract also requires county residents to become members of Guardian's air ambulance service which effectively creates a monopoly, he said. This was echoed by at least one other. Other contract concerns were mentioned, but most focused around the subsidies. Multiple individuals mentioned possibilities for the county's ambulance budget shortfalls. Some suggested raising rates, while many others said they would be OK with a tax of some sort. Roughly an equal number of people supported either a 1 percent sales tax or a mil levy. Some said the mil levy was more appropriate because locals would use the service more, while others argued that a sales tax would spread the cost out more fairly across the populous. Lander Police Chief Bob Cecrle and Lander Fire Administrator Nick Hudson, while not taking a side on privatization, asked what would happen for ambulance fees if their agencies called for one and then the patient refused service. Would the cost be held to their agencies? Additionally, they took issue that Guardian would be given discounted rates on dispatch fees while they pay full price. Kendra Bogaz, interim director of the Ambulance Service, said that raising rates won't change anything for either a public or private enterprise. Insurance and Medicare / Medicaid will always have set rates. She also wanted to see how equipment replacement over the five years would be handled and who would be responsible for the costs. A few others were in favor of privatization. Margaret Wells, a Dubois resident, said that Guardian has taken care of the community well since it took over transportation service for the community. Others spoke to the ability of private companies' ability to be more efficient. Several spoke saying that they've lived and worked with private ambulance services have been productive. If privatized, Guardian would have the option to leave after 5 years, and how would the county handle that should it happen? That was a question several others raised as well. At the end of the meeting, Thompson recapped the concerns raised collectively by the group. "Have we done a perfect work? No," Thompson said, but re-iterated that the commission is trying its hardest to draft the best contract possible. The county will work on addressing the issues raised, including potential proposed revisions to the contract, he concluded. "This isn't a settled deal....we have a lot to consider still." #county10 #news