Aspen ski injuries, ambulance calls on the decline
December 1, 2011
ASPEN – The Aspen Ambulance District will reduce the number of ambulances it has at the ready this ski season after the number of calls to pick up injured skiers and snowboarders dropped dramatically last winter.
The district’s ability to respond to calls of all types, however, will not be affected as a result of the proposed budget cut, ambulance and Aspen Valley Hospital officials said.
Pitkin County commissioners, acting in their dual role as the ambulance district’s board of directors, will review the district’s proposed 2012 budget on Tuesday. It calls for a significant reduction in the cost of the county’s contract with the hospital, which operates Aspen Ambulance. The decrease reflects last winter’s drop in ski-related incidents.
Aspen Ambulance responds to calls for injured parties at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk (Snowmass Ambulance handles calls at Snowmass) as well as general 911 calls for ambulance service, according to Director Jim Richardson. The district averages about 1,100 call per year. While 911 calls have remained steady, ski-related calls last winter dropped by about 100 – or roughly 50 percent.
There are various theories about why there were fewer calls from the ski areas.
“The one that we’re believing the most was snow conditions – we had good snow conditions last winter,” Richardson said.
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Skier volume was not the reason, said David Ressler, CEO at the hospital, but equipment improvements also have been proffered as a possible reason for the drop in injuries.
“It’s purely speculation,” Ressler said.
For the coming ski season, the ambulance district will have two ambulances instead of three staffed and ready to roll during the ski day. Richardson and operations manager Gabe Muething are able to staff a third ambulance when it’s needed. In addition, the district has a more active mutual-aid agreement with Snowmass Ambulance to help cover calls, and any Aspen Ambulance can now respond to any call, Richardson said.
In the past, the mountain ambulance wasn’t equipped to handle all calls, but now, all of the ambulances are outfitted with the equipment and trained crew necessary for any call whether it’s a 911 emergency or a skier pickup.
“We have a lot more flexibility now. Any ambulance can respond to any call that comes in,” Ressler said.
The proposed staffing changes for 2012 don’t involve layoffs of any regular ambulance personnel, Ressler added. Rather, there may not be the need for as much additional, seasonal help. If calls increase, the ambulance district can respond accordingly, he said.
Going into 2012, the proposed budget for contracting with the hospital for ambulance services will drop to $288,538, according to John Redmond, county finance director. The county budgeted close to $336,000 this year but is projected to wind up spending about $428,000, he said. The increase covers about $90,000 in service fees that did not materialize – the result of the decline in calls from ski areas, he said.
The revised budget means the ambulance district is no longer forecast to run in the red over the next five years, according to County Manager Jon Peacock, but there is more work to be done, he said.
“What we’ve done is create some breathing room,” Peacock said.
In the coming year, the fees the ambulance district charges for services will be reviewed, he said. In addition, the county may consider asking voters to adjust the property tax that helps fund the district, Peacock said.