One of the quiet success stories in our region is the ambulance service provided by Ute Pass Regional Health District under the strong leadership of Chief Executive Officer Tim Dienst. A recent conversation with him was inspiring and enlightening, as he described the service’s modest beginnings in the 1950s with an all-volunteer agency.

“In the ’70s, the City of Woodland Park assumed responsibility for services, but a decade later discontinued ownership,” he explained. “It then became a 501c3, but was still named the Woodland Park Ambulance Service. In 2005, we formed the district and in 2006 the property tax funding mechanism was passed, and the name changed to the Ute Pass Ambulance.” The agency has grown to employ 18 full-time paramedics and EMTs and two administrators.

It’s one of the services we tend to take for granted, unless, of course, we need it. Given the expansive service area, we should be grateful to have a state-of-the-art service. The district is 580 square miles and covers all of northern Teller County, a large part of southeast Park County, Lake George up to Tarryall, and up to Wilkerson Pass.

With the recent passage of the half-cent sales tax, Dienst is excited to achieve service sufficiency and stability. “We’re in the process of adding a third ambulance, and we’re training new people, so it’s in transition. By June we’ll have all three vehicles active.”

I asked him about the difference between a paramedic and an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). “A paramedic can provide advanced life support, including administering medication, intubating patients, defibrillation, starting intravenous lifelines, and cardiac monitoring,” Dienst explained. “An EMT provides important, basic medical interventions.”

Funding sources include fee-for-service, commercial insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, grants, and the recent sales tax, which begins in July. Besides funding the third ambulance, the sales tax revenue will help support the community mental health program, which is in the vanguard of forward-thinking services.

“When people are in crisis, we will now be able to get them to the services they need rather than simply transporting them to the ER,” Dienst said. “For that service they’re using an SUV donated by the Colorado Springs Health Foundation, which is more cost effective than an ambulance.

In terms of job satisfaction, Dienst said it’s the kind of work he’s cut out for. “I love interacting with the community and staff. We have some of the best medical technicians and staff in the state. That allows me to get more involved in the national initiatives such as improved Medicare payments. We’re also trying to convince political leaders that there are less expensive options than simply transporting patients to hospitals. In many instances a trip to the patient’s physician or an urgent care makes more sense and is far less costly.”

There are other services that Dienst said could be provided. “Many patients, such as those with congestive heart failure (CHF) are discharged to the community, but don’t qualify for home care. CHF is one of the highest readmission diagnoses and we could follow them and provide services such as medication adjustments, O2 monitoring, and weight checks, which would be patient-friendly and very cost effective.”

He informed me that the service models are moving towards what’s known as the Community Integrated Health Service paradigm, comprehensive service programs that are both cost-efficient and provide timely, targeted care.

In Dienst’s eyes, the future is bright. “I’m generally optimistic for the future of our services. Expanding the services we offer will increase our depth and breadth, which will benefit the community.”

Philip Mella serves on the 4th Judicial District Nominating Commission and is a health care administrator with a passion for history, politics and the written word. He also served on the Woodland Park City Council for seven years. Email Philip at roadnottaken@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

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