Hospital to take over Weld County paramedic service

Paramedic services in Weld County will soon be handled by North Colorado Medical Center Inc. and its operating partner, Banner Health, in a move that officials say will save millions in taxpayer dollars.

The county has had to write off about $11 million in unpaid bills the past three years related to its paramedic services, county officials said Tuesday. It collected only about 25 percent of its billable services last year.

“This past year, we almost got to the point where we had to subsidize the program for the first time ever,” County Commissioner Sean Conway said. “It was clear that the current model could not be sustained.”

Under the deal, the hospital would pay about $802,000 for the assets of the Weld County Paramedic Services. The deal will take effect May 7, so long as commissioners give it their final OK Monday. A yes vote is expected.

The county has been providing ambulance services in Weld since 1974.

Along with the problem of unpaid paramedic services bills, officials timed the move with President Obama’s health care reforms. Conway explained that the law would discontinue Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements to the county for its ambulance services.

Beginning in 2014, only hospitals can receive Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements for those services, he said.

“If we continue to operate Weld County Paramedics under our current structure, we could be faced with not being able to get reimbursed for our current transports to hospitals,” Conway said.

Conway also said that the transfer would take place regardless of whether the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the law.

Weld County communities will continue to receive high-quality emergency medical services, officials said.

The nonprofit Banner Health has no plans to raise the cost of emergency medical services for patients, said Jim Ferando, president of the company’s Western Region.

Instead, Banner Health hopes to trim costs.

“It would be nice if we could carve out enough cost to reduce charges, but that will come over time,” he said.

The paramedic service would take patients to the nearest hospital in life or death situations. If there’s no such emergency, patients can chose what hospital they prefer.

County paramedic service employees will enjoy “more job security” with Banner Health than with the county, he said. The hospital will offer the 100 staffers jobs — including 50 part-timers — after the deal is approved.

Ferando was confident that Banner Health could turn the operation into a “break-even proposition.”

“We’re already used to writing off large sums of money,” he said.

People can comment on the proposed deal at upcoming public meetings 9 a.m. Wednesday and Monday.


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