County's private ambulance firm says vehicles breaking down

Nov 26, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

When Guardian EMS agreed to take over Fremont County's ambulance services last year for the term of a five-year lease, the privatization agreement included full access to the county's fleet of 14 ambulances.

The aging ambulances have now become troublesome assets.

Guardian regional supervisor Matt Strauss said the company has had $35,000 in maintenance costs, in recent months, and those costs are continuing to rise.

In the last five months, Guardian has had three ambulances break down during emergency calls, Strauss said.

"That creates a liability for us," Strauss told Fremont County Commissioners last week.

In one instance, a patient in critical condition was placed into an ambulance on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Then, while en route to the hospital, the vehicle broke down in the middle of the road, Strauss said.

"At what point do we replace these ambulances?" he said.

The contract between the county and Guardian does not stipulate how, if necessary, ambulances would be replaced.

The company also has frustrations with how repairs are being handled by the county's maintenance department. The concerns include what Strauss said seem to be excessive charges --such as $90 for a gas cap.

Strauss said that when an air conditioner unit recently failed in an ambulance, the truck was brought in for maintenance. The company was charged for repair, but the unit then failed again the next day. Guardian then was billed again when the truck immediately was brought in for a second repair.

Fremont County Commissioner Clarence Thomas expressed concern by that practice. He said "it's not ethical" for the company to be charged twice for the same repair.

"It seems to me to be a huge red flag," he said.

However, county board chairman Travis Becker said he also had been told of instances in which the county has not charged Guardian for certain repairs and told Strauss that "it sounds like we have a communication breakdown" that needs to be fixed.

Guardian is looking to fill a full-time director position for Fremont County after the short-lived tenure of Andrea Abbas this year.

Strauss said the company has now interviewed 20 applicants for that position.

While all EMT Basic positions are filled, Strauss said the company does continue to struggle with some staffing issues.

"It's nothing new to this region," he said.

At times, Strauss said, he's had to reallocate resources to fulfill the performance terms of Guardian's contract with the county.

For example, Guardian has sometimes pulled crews from Dubois to keep Lander fully staffed.

However, Strauss said "that's not our business model, and that's not our plan for the future."

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