“It’s a national crisis, getting volunteers,” said Del Bieroth, Sheridan resident and president of the Ruby Valley Ambulance. “We’re getting older and we’re getting fewer.”
The current Ruby Valley Ambulance is a volunteer-based organization – it started as search and rescue and evolved into an ambulance service. For a few years now, however, Bieroth and the other volunteers have gone back and forth, discussing how to keep the service viable into the future.
“The best scenario would be for the (Ruby Valley Hospital), which is already established in the community, to incorporate the ambulance,” said Kathy Tetrault, physician assistant at RVH, who will serve as the medical director for the ambulance. “This has gone back and forth for a number of years, but recruiting volunteers is too difficult.”
By the end of June, the Ruby Valley Ambulance will operate under the umbrella of the hospital.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking for us – this has been over 40 years of volunteer service,” Bieroth said. “The important thing is all of us are contributing to make sure there is no interruption in service and to make sure it’s a smooth transition.”
The hospital, however, is determined to carry on the tradition of good emergency response that has been established over many years through the ambulance, said John Semingson, CEO of the hospital.
“Our model utilizes and pays EMTs for on call time and employee paramedics to cover the residents of the Ruby Valley 24/7,” Semingson said.
Under the hospital’s jurisdiction, the ambulance structure will change slightly. Fortunately, Bieroth said the ambulance was able to donate the vehicles, building and fully-stocked supplies to the hospital.
“The paramedics we hire will be full time employees with additional duties who are expected to be at the station or hospital for their shift,” Tetrault explained. “Then the crew for a call is a paramedic, and an EMT volunteer, who can respond from home.”
Tetrault said the ambulance has done a “tremendous” job of always responding to calls.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and we’re proud we haven’t had a call unanswered,” Bieroth said. “All of us are EMT basics with some endorsements on the service now, but the paramedics will have a bigger bag of tricks.”
That “bigger bag of tricks” will benefit the community with an expanded scope of services to people who call 911, Tetrault said. She added the ambulance will be able to transport more patients without needing to call an air ambulance, which is much more expensive.
“It’s going to be beneficial to all the residents,” Tetrault said. “We want to protect the residents in the Ruby Valley. We recognize we already have a limited scope of services, by being rural.”
Since the Ruby Valley Hospital is a critical access hospital, an ambulance service is reimbursed.
“We’re trying to avoid a mill levy,” Tetrault said. “I think we will try to see how our reimbursement plays out for the first couple months and decide from there. I have to commend the ambulance service because they have been able to do this without asking for dollars.”
Though bills will increase with the expanded scope of services, Tetrault said it will be at an allowable rate under insurance models – essentially, insurance will end up paying more, but it will not be passed to a patient.
“It was time to look beyond and figure out where we were trying to go,” Bieroth said. “This is important.”