Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

During a recent presentation to the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, Del Norte Ambulance CEO Ron Sandler and General Manager John Pritchett gave a report on the status of the company, unveiled a plan to improve local service and shot down a local rumor.

“Judging by the amount of calls and comments we hear, we believe the community is well served by our first responders and the staff at Del Norte Ambulance,” Sandler said at the meeting Tuesday. He said that from 1990 to 2017, the county saw a 14.5 percent population increase, but his company had a 161 percent increase in medical calls.

Pritchett said it took persuasion of the state Emergency Medical Services Authority, and North Coast Emergency Medical Services, but the company’s ambulances now carry i-gels, an airway management device. The company is also upgrading its cardiac monitors. Pritchett also noted the company is still using its bariatric ambulance, which can safely and comfortably transport heavier patients.

Pritchett noted the best equipment needs the best personnel to operate it but bringing trained and skilled personnel to the region can be difficult. He said Del Norte Ambulance has addressed the problem by supporting its EMTs to go to school locally and earn paramedic licenses. Del Norte Ambulance also continues to recruit and keep top personnel through its own expanded training program, he said.

“Because of this program, our people are now able to earn their continual education credits they need to stay licensed, without having to travel outside of Del Norte County,” Pritchett said.

Pritchett acknowledged native EMT and soon-to-be paramedic Devin Degler, for his work in getting certified, calling him, “a young man doing good.”

Sandler introduced the company’s new advanced EMT pilot program, which will possibly start in fall, and will lift local basic EMTs level of service to one just below that of a paramedic, he said.

“An Advanced EMT can perform many paramedic-level skills,” Sandler said. “Our goal is to not only train our EMTs but also the many EMTs in our local fire departments, search and rescue, and first responders, especially in outlying areas. This will allow for quicker advanced care prior to paramedic arrival.”

And the bad news

Pritchett noted the many challenges faced by the company, including the mandated minimum wage increase, which drives its payroll costs up 8.5 percent annually. He said the costs hit hard, since Del Norte Ambulance operates 24-7, and 365 days per year. Fuel costs also challenge the company, and are expected to keep going up, along with the costs of equipment and medicine, he said.

“Please remember that our reimbursement rates for approximately 70 percent of our customers/ patients are set by the government at substantially less than the approved public rate,” Pritchett said. “These individuals are covered by Medicare, Medi Cal, and the Partnership HealthPlan that was created as part of the Affordable Care Act. Another 10 percent of our call volume are non-transports that are not billed. Only a small percentage of our patients and their insurance companies, 10 to 12 percent, pay the full public rate as authorized by this board.”

Pritchett said he will likely return to the board at some point to ask that rates be readjusted.

Sandler said May 1 marked 34 years of owning and operating the company, which he looks forward to continuing. He said a recent agreement with Metro West Ambulance of Oregon gives Del Norte Ambulance greater buying power and access to more sophisticated medical charting, billing and support services.

As for the rumor, Sandler was unambiguous.

“For the record, I have not sold Del Norte Ambulance, as some have reported,” he said. “This agreement just allows us to do a lot more for our community.”

Supervisors also recognized May as Emergency Medical Services Month.