An ambulance without 911 might seem like an airplane without a control tower — something that has no direction or destination.
But a new Colorado Springs company is trying to capitalize on just such a concept by circumventing 911 to serve mostly non-critical patients who might otherwise be put on the back burner by the county’s contracted ambulance provider, American Medical Response.
Rocky Mountain Mobile Medical began operating this month out of a nondescript building in northwest Colorado Springs with a fully equipped ambulance, a dispatch center and emergency medical technicians and paramedics. A second ambulance is scheduled to arrive this week, and the company eventually hopes to have at least a dozen vehicles servicing Colorado Springs.
The company is focusing on patients — many of them elderly — who require medical assistance when going to and from health care facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals, hospices and dialysis centers, but who are not in critical situations. But Rocky Mountain Mobile expects to handle emergencies as well, and it’s licensed by the state to respond with lights and sirens, said Chief Executive Officer Ray Goetze.
Goetze has tried to make it as easy for a hospital or nursing home to call his company in an emergency as it is it to dial 911. The company has purchased special phones, to be installed at nurses’ stations, that will dial directly into the company’s dispatch on encrypted lines to protect patients’ information.
The company also is working out arrangements with Medicare and insurers.
The idea of bypassing 911 for an ambulance worries at least one board member of the El Paso County Emergency Services Agency, which oversees AMR’s exclusive contract to respond to 911 calls. The board member, County Commissioner Sallie Clark, said the contract ensures that people get the most timely care — and imposes penalties on AMR if they don’t.
“If somebody’s trying to work outside of that system, that’s not in the patient’s best interest,” she said.
Goetze, though, said many emergency calls don’t warrant police and fire responders, such as a nursing home patient who falls and breaks a hip. Those are the same patients who might be left waiting indefinitely if it comes down to choosing between serving them or, say, a car crash victim, he said.
AMR’s local General Manager Ted Sayer conceded Rocky Mountain’s target group of patients represents a significant portion of its current business. Interfacility transports, as they are called, make up about 30 percent of its calls, he said.
“Certainly, if they’re successful, it would have an impact,” he said.
At the same time, he questioned whether the new company will succeed. Several ambulance companies have tried similar ventures over the years, but none lasted.
Rocky Mountain so far has some buy-in. It is under contract with Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care, and it has hired Dr. Jack Sharon, the director of Penrose Hospital’s Emergency Department, as medical director. Sharon is also on the Emergency Services Agency board.
And, unlike national providers such as AMR and many of its past competitors, Goetze is a local businessman well-acquainted with the staff at local health care facilities. Several years ago he started a company called Beo, a Latin word for giving, which offers home care for the elderly, trains nursing aides, and runs a non-medical transport service.
The idea to start an ambulance service, he said, came from health care providers frustrated by long waits for an ambulance when things get busy.
Sayer rebuffed claims of long waits, saying the company hits its target response times more often than not. He accused of Goetze of spreading misinformation to drum up business.
Martha Barton, CEO at Pikes Peak Hospice, praised AMR, but she said Rocky Mountain is nonetheless a welcome addition for her patients.
“The truth of it is, the triage ambulance company has got to take calls in order of priority of patient safety. When it comes to transfer out of a hospital, our patients have to wait longer than we would like them to have to,” Barton said. “I think that there’s room for them both.”
Sharon also spoke highly of AMR, but said it can’t do everything.
“I think that if there were not a void in the non-emergent transport aspect … then probably Rocky Mountain Medical would not be starting.”