Skagit County gives final approval to EMS agreement
MOUNT VERNON — Skagit County is one step closer to restructuring its ambulance system after the Skagit County commissioners approved a new agreement Monday.
The 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt voting against, means the agreement to give the county’s four cities responsibility for the bulk of ambulances services has been accepted by all parties.
County Emergency Medical Services Director Jeff Sargent thanked city and county staff for their work putting the agreement together in about two months, calling it a massive undertaking that required staff to devote many hours per week to meetings and negotiations.
With the agreement unanimously accepted, Sargent said the county is now working on forming an EMS Council to contribute to the operation of the system going forward.
“We’re trying to build a cohesive system, from the public to the hospitals and beyond,” he said. “We want them all at the table.”
A local council would be responsible for reviewing and passing recommendations on to ambulance providers and would have a small amount of regulatory authority, he said.
He said the county doesn’t know what the exact composition of the council will be but wants to have it ready to meet before Jan. 1.
Before voting, Dahlstedt again said he was worried that residents in unincorporated Skagit County won’t receive the same level of care as city residents once the cities control the system.
“I have reservations and concerns with how well (unincorporated areas) will be responded to,” he said.
After the meeting, Sargent said Dahlstedt’s concerns were valid, but the cities have shown through their work on the agreement that they’re serious about taking on this responsibility.
“He has the right to be skeptical,” Sargent said. “Change is difficult for everybody.”
He said once the new system is up and running, the providers will be able to show him data that will address Dahlstedt’s concerns.
Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton, who has clashed with Dahlstedt on this issue, walked out of the meeting when Dahlstedt started to talk about his concerns.
“I’ve had enough,” he said after the meeting. “I won’t give him an audience.”
The contract signed by each of the providers requires them to meet average response times to rural areas and includes methods for mediating failures to hit those targets.
“It’s insulting to the cities,” Sexton said of Dahlstedt’s concern about service to unincorporated areas. “But it’s more insulting to the men and women who are providing this service.”