The interests of government and private business are at odds in West Jordan as the city and Gold Cross struggle for control of the ambulance service.
West Jordan applied Aug. 15 to the state's Bureau of Emergency Medical Services to assume a service contract held by Gold Cross Ambulance Service for 13 years. Gold Cross contested the application, and both parties pleaded their cases during a five-day hearing that ended Dec. 29.West Jordan officials have criticized the procedure, saying the city shouldn't have to justify its decision to serve its citizens.
"Legally, one of the issues is: Does the state have the right to tell West Jordan we can't have our own ambulance service the way we want it - through our fire department?" West Jordan City Attorney Steven Homer said. "Does the Constitution of Utah allow the city to have these rights of self-determination, home rule? We think it does."
For Gold Cross, the city's proposal threatens a vital link in a network designed to route am-bu-lances where they're needed across the valley.
If West Jordan assumes its own ambulance service, Gold Cross would still serve surrounding areas, including Copperton and an incorporated area between West Valley City and West Jordan. The situation could also result in higher ambulance fees, said Gold Cross spokesman Dale Zabriskie.
"There could be an impact where the amount of overhead covered by the business in West Jordan would then fall to other residents in the county," Zabriskie said. "So, you could conceivably see somewhat higher charges for ambulance service throughout the valley because of this. It will impact not just residents of West Jordan, but people throughout the service area."
Although West Jordan officials counter that the city constitutes less than 3 percent of Gold Cross' total business, Zabriskie said one can't measure the effects without considering the interconnected system. West Jordan is a key part of the Gold Cross' "global network" of service, which includes the entire Salt Lake Valley, with the exception of Sandy, Draper, Midvale and South Jordan, he said.
"Because of the global nature of this, you can't just pull that 3 percent out and say that's the only impact," Zabriskie said. "They have this global network, and you suddenly pull out a chunk of that - ambulance service is like utility service almost; you can't just turn off that part of the spigot."
West Jordan is not the only city in Utah to consider operating its own ambulance service. But the December hearing marks the first time a public entity has challenged a license held by a private operator, said Jan Buttrey, EMS bureau director. The 13-member EMS committee will issue its decision regarding West Jordan's application in March.
"Gold Cross' position is, `We're here, we've done this for 13 years,' " Zabriskie said. " `Why should we be the ones that retreat just because the city wants to do this?' There's no history of any concerns they had expressed during those 13 years."
In Utah, more than 50 government entities provide their own ambulance service, compared to five private carriers statewide, Homer said.
The switch wouldn't be difficult for West Jordan, according to Homer and West Jordan public safety chief Ken McGuire. The city already employs 63 full- and part-time EMTs, who go to every medical emergency in the city as part of the city's first-responder teams.
"To draw the line and say West Jordan can't (provide ambulance service) - that's wrong . . . when West Jordan is already licensed to provide the emergency medical technicians who go out there and stabilize the patient on the street and save his life," Homer said. "We can get his heart started again, we can do all that. We can put him in the stretcher, then we can't . . . put the stretcher in our own ambulance and take him to the hospital. That's just kind of silly from a practical standpoint."
Startup costs for city-operated ambulance service are already budgeted for this year and include the city's hiring eight firefighters and purchasing two ambulances. The upgrade would also result in round-the-clock staffing of a west-side fire station currently manned from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.