Commission hears of planned reduction in ambulance staffing in both Dubois and Lander

(Lander, Wyo.) – The Fremont County Commission today raised no significant concerns with the budget amendments presented by Fremont County Ambulance Director Joseph Zillmer, which include reductions in staff in both Dubois and Lander.

About a week ago, the commission had ordered Zillmer to reduce the budget so that it was self-sufficient and not requiring a more than $500,000 subsidy from the county’s general fund. (Zillmer reviewed an early version of the cuts with County10 last week.) All commissioners were present for the discussion, except for Chairman Doug Thompson.

In order to eliminate the reliance on the general fund, as well as alleviate strain on the department’s reserve fund, Zillmer said had to make these cuts, as there were no other ways to reduce costs. He then detailed the cuts so that the county commission could understand their effects.

Dubois will no longer have a full-time paid-staff ambulance. There will only be one full-time Advanced Life Support employee on at a time. If an ambulance is needed it will be up to volunteers to staff it, or one will need to be sent from Lander or Riverton. Zillmer said this will cause an increase in response times and have a “negative effect of patient care, morbidity and mortality.”

Dubois Mayor Twila Blakeman was present to voice her concerns. “We’re devastated by the fact that we’re going to be left with so little attention up there,” she said. She urged Zillmer and Division Supervisor Todd Smith to make amends with previous volunteers in order to improve service. “You’re just leaving us out there to … it’s going to be a disaster,” she said.

Additionally, the Lander region will no longer have two ambulances available at all times. The second ambulance crew will be reduced to four days a week, 14 hours a day, during times when call volumes are historically highest. This cut, Zillmer said, will also result in increased response times, especially to the reservation.

These staffing cuts result in a 19 percent reduction in the department’s workforce.

Zillmer will be pursuing alternate sources of revenue, including a more aggressive grant search. Additionally, he said he fired the department’s collection agency to help recoup unpaid bills. The previous agency was only returning on 1.7 percent of what it was given to collect. The new agency is estimating a return of 7 to 10 percent.

Zillmer promised Blakeman and the commission that as additional revenue arrives, recouping staffing levels will be the highest priority.

A reworking of the contract with Indian Health Services and the possibility of becoming a 501c3 nonprofit are also on the table.

Zillmer also painted a bleak picture of the department’s infrastructure, noting aging vehicles, obsolete computers and 11-year-old radios.