Fremont County is seeking its third Emergency Medical Services director in two years amid increasing financial woes.
The hope is to hire an interim director for the next six months while commissioners settle on a way to save the county’s ambulance service, which recently required an infusion of about $680,000, according to Commissioner Larry Allen, the EMS liaison.
Former Director Joseph Zillmer was fired in May after just 16 months on the job. Allen would not elaborate on why, but comments from Zillmer and the county’s treasurer to the Riverton Ranger in the wake of the termination accuse either side of a rocky relationship and poor communication. The previous director, Lauri Wempen resigned in summer 2013, accusing commissioners of not budgeting enough money to provide a high level of ambulance service, according to the Ranger.
“She felt there was a lack of communication,” said Allen, characterizing Wempen’s resignation.
Expenses have outstripped revenues only in the last few years, according to Allen, but Fremont County is not alone in its struggles.
“Get on Google and look up EMS financial struggles,” Allen said. “You’ll find it’s nationwide.”
Like many EMS departments, Fremont County is shorthanded, Allen said. Staff responds to upwards of 6,000 calls a year, and that means dozens of hours of overtime every month for each emergency responder.
It’s also a huge county. Vehicles need a lot of maintenance, Allen explained, and some are bound to break down.
“We provide the service, and when we don’t get reimbursement -- that on top of the overtime … it’s a number of things that culminate in driving the cost up,” Allen said.
To keep up with those rising costs, the county is considering anything from increasing taxes to hiring a private company to take over.
The county could bring a proposal for a health care district, which would involve a mill levy, or an additional 1 percent sales tax, to the voters. In the case of a health care district, a board would be created to make decisions regarding emergency medical services.
Three private companies have offered proposals to handle those services, Allen said.
Meanwhile, an understaffed emergency medical services will continue racking up overtime hours while the future of their department remains unclear. The level of service remains high, Allen said, but he worries the situation could take its toll on employees.
“They’re uneasy because of the lack of stability. They don’t know which direction the county is going,” Allen said.