East Jefferson ambulance fees could increase

Fire commissioners to discuss topic, encourage public input

CHIMACUM — East Jefferson Fire Rescue is considering increasing the amount it bills patients for emergency, non-emergency and specialty care ambulance transport.

Commissioners at their March 15 meeting discussed proposed changes that could raise fees from 11 percent to 20 percent, depending on the level of service, and per-mile fees from $15 to $18.

They did not vote on the changes but agreed to revisit the issue at their next meeting on April 19.

Chief Bret Black said the district was not recommending specific fee rates, but, rather, showing commissioners what the numbers look like if the fire districtused the same ambulance fee schedule Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue did before it merged into East Jefferson on Jan. 1.

“The reasoning behind this was a disparity between billing for Port Ludlow and East Jefferson, and we wanted to put them on the same level,” Black said.

East Jefferson has not adjusted fees for ambulance service since 2012 except for adding a fee in 2014 for transporting deceased individuals, which is billed at the same rate as non-emergency basic life support.

Costs related to ambulance transport were not included in the Emergency Services Levy lid lift voters approved in the Feb. 14 special election.

The possibility of collecting ambulance fees from tourists and nonresidents to earn more revenue was raised by members of the public around the time of the levy, but fire district officials determined doing so was not worth the staff time it would require to locate nonresidents and then try to collect what it was owed.

“Even if we billed more money, it doesn’t mean we’ll get money back in return,” said administrative assistant Tanya Cray, who presented the proposed changes to the commissioners.

Bud Ayers, who lives on Marrowstone Island, said increasing ambulance fees would negatively impact those already reluctant to call 911 because they could not afford the service and it would impose an additional hardship on some residents.

“There are a number of people on the island, they refuse to even call an ambulance for fear of getting that bill if they’re not properly insured,” Ayers said.

“We just increased the levy lift, we just increased the burden on the community to enhance the overall ability to service it better, and now we’re asking them to pay more money.”

Commissioner Deborah Stinson said she needed more time to consider any fee increases and wanted the public to have an opportunity to weigh in.

“I think it is incumbent upon us to look at this,” Stinson said. “It’s like other things, we all pay property taxes to have this service in place, but those who use the service pay a little extra that we all get the benefit.”

Commissioners at the April 19 meeting could vote to approve the increases; decide on different amounts for the increases; postpone increases for a later date; or vote against the increases.

Black encouraged community members with questions or concerns about proposed changes to the ambulance fee schedule to participate in conversations about them.

“The one thing I want everybody to know is they should feel welcome to either come to our next board meeting and express their feelings or contact the board member directly,” Black said “The board is there to represent the individual community member.”

Other items from the meeting:

• Commissioners approved the creation of new commissioner districts that address the merger of East Jefferson and Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue that occurred on Jan. 1.

The change in district boundaries reduces the number of commissioners from 10 (five each from East Jefferson and Port Ludlow) to five.

The new districts were created based on population; each district contains about 5,500 residents.

• East Jefferson will begin discussions with Quilcene Fire Rescue to renegotiate their contract for services agreement that obligates East Jefferson to provide Quilcene with advanced life support services.

Among the concerns are that, when East Jefferson personnel respond to calls from Quilcene, they are unavailable to provide services in their own district. Additionally, East Jefferson paramedics called to Quilcene must use transport vehicles with which they are unfamiliar.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at paula.hunt@soundpublishing.com.

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