What does the Beaverhead Ambulance Special Service District have to do with you?

Guest Opinion
Jean Bergeson
Wednesday, April 14, 2021

We in Beaverhead County believe in taking care of each other— especially in our greatest times of need. There may be no time of greater need than when one of us is sick or injured and requires the services of trained emergency medical responders and transport in an ambulance. There are no guarantees in life, but when a few minutes or even a few seconds can mean the difference between life and death someone must be available to answer the call.

Beaverhead Emergency Medical Services (BEMS), as the oldest-existing, continuously operating ambulance service, has provided those essential emergency services to our friends and neighbors since 1953. And BEMS wants to continue to be there to deliver medical attention and transportation to those in the midst of a medical emergency.

But demand on our ambulance service has been steadily increasing, with annual ambulance runs surging to over 600 per year. In response, over the years BEMS has changed operations to meet the demands, including increasing to a fleet of three ambulances, with state-of-the-art equipment. BEMS has now significantly increased staffing and has been operating on a 24/7 coverage schedule, with volunteer members working 36-hour on-duty shifts and one- to two volunteer members responding from on-call shifts.

The increased staffing has improved response times, but the increased demands on the service comes at a cost to its volunteer members and the ambulance operation overall. BEMS, a non-profit organization, has never received any public funds through taxes. Now we are asking for help from the people we serve.

But, it does not matter how many vehicles are available to meet the demand, if BEMS does not have enough people to fill the seats. An ambulance service must be maintained in Dillon and the surrounding area to transport a sick or injured person. Maintaining a volunteer force is becoming more difficult. Options have been considered, such as contracting with another agency, such as Missoula Emergency Medical Services – but the expense would be astronomical. The members of BEMS believe keeping the service local – at the lowest cost – by having an ambulance service run by community members for the community is the best option.

BEMS proposes establishing the Beaverhead Ambulance Service Special District following the boundaries of Fire District #2 and including the city of Dillon. BEMS currently provides coverage for the area – from Clark Canyon Dam to Melrose, and from the Horse Prairie to the Madison County line. The Beaverhead Ambulance Services Special District would levy taxes of just $35 per year on residential, commercial and mobile homes located within the proposed district over the next five years on their taxes. The $35 cannot increase and the voters would need to vote to extend the levy past the five years.

The funds from the taxes would pay for hiring one-third of the full-time staff needed to maintain a 24/7 ambulance service. The remaining two-third staffing would be volunteers who continue to be essential to the future of the ambulance service. A five-person board (elected by you) will ensure the funds raised are only used for employee staffing. BEMS will cover the remaining costs of staffing, and all equipment, supplies and maintenance.

The ambulance district is not a new ambulance service. BEMS will continue to operate. It will have no effect on any of the other ambulance services in the county, Lima, Grasshopper, Wisdom and Wise River.

Dillon City Council passed a resolution in support of establishing the district. Barrett Hospital and Healthcare’s board elected to forego collection of its mill levy (a countywide benefit) in support of establishing the district. The County Commissioners have passed the necessary resolution to allow the special district to be formed.

BEMS needs our neighbors to deliver the vital financial help so we can continue to provide you with critical medical aid and transportation. BEMS is asking for the support of the voters within the proposed district to establish the Beaverhead Ambulance Services Special District.

For answers to questions about the special district, please call 683-4985 or 683-2833 and leave a message for a call back from a BEMS member.