Commissioners, mayors support major changes to ambulance system

July 21, 2018

MOUNT VERNON — The Skagit County commissioners and the mayors of the county’s four cities support a plan to put municipal fire departments in charge of the county’s ambulance services by Jan. 1.

This comes less than three weeks ahead of a vote on a new emergency medical services levy, which funds much of the county’s ambulance system.

At a work session Friday, the commissioners met with county EMS Director Jeff Sargent to discuss this shift in ambulance management, and commissioners Lisa Janicki and Ron Wesen voiced support for the plan.

Under this proposal the Central Valley Ambulance Authority, the semi-governmental agency that operates ambulances between Fidalgo Island and Hamilton, will not exist by April of next year.

Because the county approves the ambulance authority’s budget, the ambulance authority and its governing board have long said they don’t have enough autonomy to run the agency as they think is best.

Sargent said giving the cities authority over the ambulance system will provide a clear chain of command.

“This model eliminates confusion on who ambulance (providers) report to,” he said.

Cities, he said, have their own funding streams independent of the EMS levy, and if they want to do something not authorized by the county, they can tap into their own budget.

Sargent drafted a map of response areas for each of the four cities that ensures ambulance service to rural parts of the county.

He said Aero Skagit, the nonprofit that runs the ambulance services east of Hamilton, will stay in place, at least for the near future.

Anacortes already operates its own ambulance service.

Mayors from Mount Vernon, Burlington, Anacortes and Sedro-Woolley sent a letter to the commissioners July 17 in support of the plan.

“A fire based approach is the recommendation of all the various consultants who have studied Skagit County’s EMS system since 2001 ... and will result in a stronger, more economically sustainable system,” the letter reads.

In the letter, the mayors commit to a robust conversation on how the transition should happen.

During Friday’s work session, Janicki said giving fire departments more of a role in EMS makes sense because about 85 percent of their emergency calls are medical.

“They’re working in that realm already,” she said.

Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt didn’t say whether he supported the plan, saying “the commission has made a decision.”

The commissioners will need to vote on the plan, though a date has not been set.

Once there is a vote, the county would form an advisory committee comprised of city, rural and county representatives, said county Administrator Tim Holloran.

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