County wants joint ambulance service

But the privately owned Gold Cross may put up a fight

By Josh Loftin
Deseret News staff writer

A large portion of Salt Lake County residents could be seeing a different color for their ambulance service.

Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman plans to submit, for a second time this year, an application that would give the county fire department the right to provide ambulance service to its residents. Unlike the application submitted in February, this application may include as many as three other cities as part of a joint ambulance service.

Currently, ambulance service is provided in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Murray, South Salt Lake and West Valley City by the privately operated Gold Cross. Most southern Salt Lake County cities provide their own ambulance services.

Because Workman plans to announce the plan for public ambulance service during a Sunday morning news conference, county officials refused to comment about the plans for ambulance service.

Ideally, the joint ambulance service would include West Valley City, South Salt Lake, Murray, and the county, West Valley Fire Chief Van Summers said. West Valley will submit its license application sometime next week and will collectively apply with the county.

By shifting the ambulance service out of the private sector, the city and county would be able to capture most of the insurance dollars that currently go to Gold Cross, even though city paramedics often

are the first to respond and treat patients. Getting that money would cover the costs of the service, as well as the purchase of as many as four new ambulances, Summers said.

"We do all of the work and then Gold Cross transports them," he said. "We're doing 90 percent of the treatment and they get almost all of the insurance money."

The proposal is not entirely revenue-driven, Summers said. Because the county would be able to send the ambulance with the fire engines, it would not have to wait for Gold Cross to respond from an unknown location. Additionally, the same paramedics who treated the patients would be able to transport them, meaning continuity of treatment.

"We don't go out and hire a private company to run our military or our police force," he said. "This is a health and safety issue, which is the responsibility of the government."

Gold Cross spokesman Chris DeLaMare said the cities are primarily interested in the insurance revenue, not the response times or continuity of service. Gold Cross has been providing ambulance service for more than three decades, and plans to appeal any licenses that are given to governments so it can continue to serve the area.

Even though Gold Cross would continue to transport patients between hospitals, losing the emergency transports would significantly hurt its business, DeLaMare said, and could lead to layoffs.

"Our business is built on both 911 and private calls," he said. "If you take a chunk of them away, it will drastically affect our business."

While West Valley and the county mayor have agreed to pursue the joint service, neither Murray nor South Salt Lake have made their plans clear.

Murray is currently the only city with an application for a license, which it submitted earlier this year after more than a year of study by the City Council. City officials said because of the pending application hearing, they did not want to comment on the possibility of a solo or joint program.

South Salt Lake Police Chief Steve Foote said the proposal is currently being studied by the mayor and City Council and a decision could be reached within the next few weeks. While he supported the idea of a joint service, that decision would be in the hands of the city leaders.

"It's more of an investment for the community," he said. "It's money we're spending for our own service instead of it flying out of the city."