HGH Trustees Vote to Establish EMS Substation in McDermitt

Humboldt General Hospital's trustees voted Tuesday, September 25, to create an ambulance substation in McDermitt, a move they say will bring a much-needed continuity of care to Humboldt County's northernmost residents.

"Our board members really felt this was something that couldn't wait," said HGH EMS Rescue Director Pat Songer. "They want to make sure that none of our north county residents are left at any point without service."

Emergency Medical Services in McDermitt have been inconsistent at best over the past years. According to dispatch records from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, the McDermitt Ambulance, which operates under a federal Indian Health Services contract and is not affiliated with HGH EMS Rescue, was out of service more than 20 times over the past year.

"That means that 22 times in the past year, dispatch paged for an ambulance and they did not respond," explained Songer. "Residents were left without care that they felt they needed."

Most recently, the federal government yanked the ambulance's license on Friday, September 14. While service was restored the following week, hospital, county and law enforcement officials spent an anxious weekend deciding what to do.

"Of course, we respond when McDermitt Ambulance is out of service," said Songer, "if we know about it, and this time was no different." In fact, HGH stationed an ambulance in McDermitt for 48 hours Saturday and Sunday, September 15-16, until the federal snafu got fixed.

"But that puts a lot of stress on our system," explained Songer. "If we take an ambulance out of Winnemucca because we were unaware that McDermitt's ambulance was out of service, then that compromises our residents in this part of the county."

Songer said hospital trustees' unanimous vote to station an ambulance in McDermitt around the clock beginning November 1 will bring a much-needed continuity of care to the situation.

Trustee Jim French said he felt it was time for the hospital to ensure consistent care for all county residents regardless of where they live.

"I think it's time for us to provide that service," said Trustee Jim French. "I think that it's been time for a long time."

Trustees Mary Orr, Mel Hummel and Ed Hopfer agreed, noting that whether the federal government decides to contract with HGH or not, the hospital should add McDermitt to its EMS system.

Humboldt General Hospital CEO/Administrator Jim Parrish told trustees that just prior to the evening's board meeting, he and Songer met with representatives from Indian Health Services who indicated they would like to pursue a contractual relationship with HGH EMS Rescue to cover services in McDermitt.

Parrish said such an agreement could offset some of the cost of operating the new extension. "But I think Pat and I agree that our best case scenario-$750,000 a year-is not likely, so regardless of what happens with IHS, we should move forward."

According to Parrish, it will require an additional 10 staff members and $1 million in salary to add the McDermitt service, based on an average of 120 calls per year.

Additionally, Parrish said other costs, including housing, equipment and fuel, will cost the hospital another $146,200 each year. That doesn't include the two ambulances hospital board members approved for the project at a cost of about $225,000 each.

One ambulance will be available 24/7 in McDermitt while a backup will remain in Winnemucca.

All told, the hospital could lose approximately $3 million over the next five years. But Songer agreed with board members that regardless of cost and/or IHS's involvement, servicing McDermitt is the right thing to do.

"The goal is for patients to receive consistent and uniform levels of clinical care across Humboldt County," he said.

Plus, Songer noted that the hospital already provides all extrication services in that part of the county, and intercepts with McDermitt for Advanced Life Support when needed, "so this will give us more control over those aspects of our service."

Board members also agreed with the hospital's long-term proposal to establish a network of volunteer first responders across the county. For example, Songer said HGH EMS Rescue could establish a volunteer ambulance base in Denio in association with county fire fighters there.

Additionally, the director said he would like to strengthen an existing network of first responder volunteers in Orovada.

"That will be in the future, but we will begin now with McDermitt," said Songer.

Board members directed Songer to begin work on the project immediately.

"This is going to give us the ability to provide the north with the consistent care they deserve," he said, "and I know we will see increases in health and public safety, productivity and training."

He added, "Most importantly, our response time will decrease, so I know we are moving in the right direction."