It just takes two calls to tie up Dave Colbert’s staff at the Montgomery County Ambulance District.
The district keeps four people ready at all times of the day, every day of the year, to run two ambulances. Stationed in Montgomery City and New Florence, the district covers more than 400 square miles, leaving the lower third of the county to Hermann’s ambulances for service.
If one ambulance is handling a call just down the street from the station, another could be taking the next call nearly 20 minutes away. Colbert said the district is often met with a total lack of an ambulance for service, known as “status zero.”
“We’ve already been at status zero this morning,” Colbert said Wednesday. “Last year, we looked through our statistics, and we’ve run at 350 times, we could count, that we were without an ambulance within our 460 square mile district.”
While Montgomery County has mutual aid agreements with several surrounding ambulance districts for that scenario, an April ballot measure seeks to bring more ambulances in service. Proposition A asks voters in the ambulance district – the same as the county’s school district – to increase the property tax from 30 cents to 50 cents for every $100 of assessed value. Colbert said the district last raised the tax 1983.
The district gets its money through property tax and medical insurance collections from ambulance service. Colbert said repayments through systems like Medicare, though, have lessened in the last several years from the structured fee schedule, along with people sometimes missing ambulance bills.
“We can’t collect anymore than what they say we can get from those,” Colbert said. “And it’s not enough to sustain what we have or expand.”
Colbert said he wants to use the money to staff a third ambulance for use around the clock. It would also allow them to keep an ambulance at large events, such as parades or fairs, to allow for quicker response. The administrator also hopes to increase outreach programs, like preventative care at nursing homes and partnering with the school districts for health training.
The money would also go towards maintenance costs of the district, such as fixing parts of the Montgomery City building, and staying ahead of the rising costs of equipment, like ambulances and the equipment needed to run them.
Montgomery County ambulances wrack up miles fast, Colbert said. The nearest trauma hospitals are in Columbia and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Peters. Both are 50 miles from the New Florence exit of Interstate 70, and can sometimes take an ambulance three hours from the time it’s dispatched to its return.
“For us to drive to the scene, pick up the patient, go to the hospital, and by the time we get back to base, generally, we’re doing about a hundred miles [round trip],” Colbert said.