• Tue. Dec 6th, 2022

Colorado’s paramedics face many challenges, looking for solutions

ByKarla E. Kowalski

Nov 24, 2022

Denver Health Paramedics is on track to make 125,000 calls this year, but that’s just the beginning of the challenges. It’s even worse in rural Colorado.

DENVER — EMTs, who are dealing with a large number of calls and challenges, asked for help and ways to find relief, especially in rural Colorado.

It’s been a tough few years, especially with COVID.

Denver Health Paramedics is on track to make 125,000 calls this year, but that’s just the beginning of the challenges.

“More people are calling 911 faster than the city is growing,” Chief Paramedic Gary Bryskiewicz said.

He said it’s hard to say why, but there are a few theories.

“[It’s] More of a question of public perspective and how they get access to care?” said Bryskiewicz. “People often don’t know whether they have insurance or not, what their personal lives are like, they don’t know how to access their care. 911 is their way of accessing care.”

He also said people have heard that emergency rooms are busy and that arriving in an ambulance could mean they are seen sooner.

“That’s not the case at all,” said Bryskiewicz. “Once you arrive at the hospital, they will triage due to medical necessity.”

Denver’s growth also plays a very real role in the challenges. There’s more traffic, more time to spend at the locations.

“People are more curious about what their grooming is going to be like,” Bryskiewicz said.

The way the city is built also changes the reaction of the medics.

“Vertical growth,” said Bryskiewicz. “He used to stop in front of the house, now he pulls up in front of the house, goes through the foyer and waits for the elevator to go to the seventh, eighth, 12th floor.”

Hospitals and emergency rooms are at capacity, meaning paramedics are waiting for available beds.

“Which took 45 minutes [to] make an entire call and now take 55 minutes to an hour to make a call,” he said.

With more calls, this means the paramedics turn around and return to the calls with fewer breaks because there is no time.

That’s the pressure on Denver Health Paramedics, the state’s busiest emergency medical service, which has vastly different resources than rural Colorado. But there are also calls for help.

“More people are using the amazing Colorado backcountry than people are getting hurt,” said Democratic State Senator-elect Dylan Roberts. “So EMS is busier than it’s been in the past few years.”

Through testimony, Roberts learned that some areas have an ambulance or share one with a neighboring city or county.

“Persons [are] Wait an hour, maybe two, for heart attack or upstate emergency assistance,” Roberts said.

Colorado is also the only state in the country that does not have a state regulatory system for ground ambulances. Roberts said there is no regulatory oversight and no consumer protection.

An idea was born, debated and enacted into law that took advantage of this last point.

It requires ambulance operators to be state licensed and meet state requirements. These applications and licenses come with a fee. This money is then pooled to help underserved departments afford more resources that are expected to reach primarily rural Colorado departments.

Paramedics in rural Colorado are doing their best with the resources at their disposal.

The idea is that each county has at least one dedicated ambulance and more money to hire more paramedics and medical supplies.

A task force is working out what those filing and license fees will look like, which will determine how much money they bring in.

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