Keeping the Yuma Ambulance Service in operation is proving to be more and more challenging financially.
“We can’t sustain what it costs with what we get in revenue,” City Manager Scott Moore said.
Keriann Josh, a paramedic with the Yuma Ambulance Service, said the number of calls are increasing, requiring more staff, which is the major part of the service’s expenditures.
She explained that Medicaid pays 10 percent of what the ambulance service bills for a run. Medicare has paid about 37 percent on what is actually billed over the last two years.
The Yuma Ambulance Service averages about 600 calls per year. Josh shared that in 2020, 53-percent of those calls involved Medicare patients, and 18 percent were on Medicaid, accounting for a combined 71 percent of all calls. She added that about another 10 percent did not have any kind of insurance.
Referring to the government programs’ low rate of pay for actual costs, Moore said: “I don’t know how they expect us to maintain a service like this. We can’t.”
The Yuma Ambulance Service has provided outstanding service to Yuma and the surrounding area for decades. As a part of the City of Yuma, it operated as its own Enterprise Fund for much of that time as it was able to remain self-sufficient.
However, that proved to become more and more difficult to maintain as the gap between costs and the return in payment continued to widen.
The city finally absorbed the department into the General Fund in 2020, dissolving it as an Enterprise Fund. However, that was viewed as just a stopgap measure as the city’s strained General Fund does not have revenue to keep supplementing the ambulance service.
City leaders have been looking into alternatives, such as an ambulance district or an ambulance authority, but no decision has been made yet in what to pursue. That decision will have to come from the city council.
Josh said Yuma Ambulance Service has six full-time employees, and 10 part-time. Seven are paramedics, most of the rest are certified EMTs. She said some are primarily just drivers, but even they need to at least pass a CPR training.
One must take a six-month class, then pass a variety of tests, to become a certified EMT. They then must take 36 hours of continuing education every two years to retain their certification.
One must be an EMT for at least a few years before being able to apply to a paramedic school.
That’s a lot of time commitment, and that is not even taking into account the actual job itself.
Josh said there are always two at the ambulance service staff members ready to go when a call comes in. If the service does a transfer, and there are a lot of those, that requires four employees — two for the transfer and two still at the ambulance service ready for any other call. Many times the ambulance service is unable to assist in taking transfers out of town because some days there are not enough staff members available.
“A big part of our job is to be here and ready to go,” she said. “We have to have people ready to come get you when you need us.”
Many of the part-time employees also have other “regular, day” jobs. Sometimes they have to do a transfer in the middle of the night, returning home just in time to take a shower and go to their other job. Transfers to other care facilities takes a crew out of town for about six hours.
More costs are the ambulances themselves, and the expensive medical equipment on them.
It is a dedication that has paid dividends to the community for decades. It is not just within Yuma, either — the ambulance department’s service area goes west to Otis, south to County Road 19 about 20 miles from the city limits, east to the old Lady Bird Park east of Eckley, and about 20 miles north to the county line.
“We’re not crying the blues,” Moore said, “but we think people need to know what it takes to provide this service.”
And the bottom line is the community could be in danger of losing the service in the not-too-distant future if a new revenue stream is not found.
National EMS Week is next week, May 15-21, and will include a fun community event, and free food.
It will be held Thursday, May 19, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Yuma Ambulance Service building at 302 E. Second Ave. It hosted by the ambulance crew, as well as the Yuma Police Department and Yuma Volunteer Fire Department.
There will be free hamburgers and hot dogs.
Meet the crews and officers. Tour the ambulance station. There will be hands-only CPR demonstrations and education.
A Med Evac helicopter will be onsite. Not only that, the ambulances, police cruisers and fire trucks will be on display, and the YVFD will do water demonstrations.
The Yuma City Council last month passed a resolution proclaiming May 15-21 as Emergency Medical Services Week.
The Emergency Medical Services system consists of first responders, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, emergency medical dispatchers, firefighters, police officers, educators, administrators, pre-hospital nurses, emergency nurses, emergency physicians, trained members of the public, and other out of hospital medical care providers.
The proclamation concludes: “Now, therefore, We, the City Council of the City of Yuma, in recognition of this event do hereby proclaim the week of May 15-21, 2022 as Emergency Medical Services Week. The with theme, EMS Strong. Rising to the challenge, we call this observance to the attention of all of our citizens and encourage the community to observe this week.”
Find the full proclamation inside this edition.