Hit hard by the extra expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Trinity County Ambulance Service officials say the service has been living off its reserves and has been on the brink of running out for some time. If two measures pass this November, TCLS says it will be able to maintain service as it is today, which is less than optimal. If they fail, officials say it could cause the service to flatline.

A recent review of its budget and reserves shows that Trinity County Life Support ambulance service is in a worse predicament than previously thought, according to a recent release.

The news makes the passage of Measures H and I this November that much more important, TCLS officials said.

According to TCLS, complications from COVID-19 could not only hurt the service, but essentially kill it without a boost in financing.

“TCLS has been flat out fighting to keep ambulances rolling to patients. Our financials just got worse, and they were already bad. TCLS needs Measures H and I to survive,” the release states. “This year, a budget deficit of over $148,000 was adopted to hold off patient care cuts. The deficit is growing due to revenue loss relative to COVID-19. This week we learned a significant source of our County subsidy may also be at risk due to COVID-19, increasing our deficit.”

TCLS says the losses are devastating.

“Trinity County Life Support has long held the belief that with continued diligence we’ll preserve ambulance services somehow,” a TCLS release said Friday, Sept. 11. “We are concerned now, that our inherent optimism has weakened our message to the public. We absolutely must alert the public that continued intact emergency ambulance service depends on Measures H and I.”

TCLS is a nonprofit 911 emergency ambulance service started in 1993 which provides emergency care and transport to patients over most of the county. According to a TCLS release, it responds to more than 1,500 calls a year.

“Trinity County Life Support maintains four ambulances in readiness, two staffed 24/7,” the release said. “One each is stationed in Weaverville and Hayfork. Measure H and Measure I will prevent our communities from losing these life-saving, essential emergency services.” TCLS also provides medical training to local volunteer fire departments, EMTs, first aid providers and others. According to its website, TCLS trains an average of over 300 people per year.

Titled Measures H and I, the first asks for the formation of the special district, with a five-member board consisting of Tod Corbett, Serena Brown, Carol Minor, Scott Alvord and Victor Kormeier if passed.

The second, Measure I, asks for a $45 per year special tax for each parcel developed with residential or commercial uses within the special district, until repealed by voters.

“Our main goal is to keep the ambulance intact and continue to provide high quality patient care,” said Kathy Ratliff, general manager.

TCLS board member Carol Minor said the funds would bring stabilization to the service and keep the staff and ambulances it already has in place. However, it would not be the only source of assistance. Along with the estimated $258,000 that would be raised, the special district would be able to apply for reimbursements to Medi-Cal shortfalls. Minor explained that the Medi-Cal reimbursements would be less and can come in between $100,000 and $200,000.

The TCLS board garnered a lot of feedback following the last election. According to Ratliff and Minor, commenters said the owners of vacant parcels would have been hit hard by the assessment.

“We did take out any assessment of vacant parcels,” Minor said, “just residential and commercial development.” The amount of the proposed assessment was almost cut in half, from $83 to $45 per parcel.

“There was a big change in the amount.” Ratliff said. “This [measure] brings in just enough to stabilize us as we are now, but it doesn’t address some of our other needs.

If it fails

“Reserves are depleted and cuts to patient care services are here. Small rural ambulance companies just like this are closing across the country,” the release said. “Throughout, we’ve had faith that we could hold this off, but without intervention TCLS could most definitely be one of these.”

Ratliff said the board has been discussing what to do if the measure fails and it’s been determined the service would face severe cuts, potentially losing up to 25 percent of shift staffing.

“If we do reach that point, we’ll have to see a decline in our ability to keep trained professional staff and our community will face delays in care, but we’ll still do all we can for the community.”

Asked how the community will be able to help If the measure fails, Minor said, “Raise $300,000 annually and donate it. That’s what we need to just stabilize and operate as we are.” She added that the extra expenses around providing medical service in a pandemic certainly are not helping the ambulance service.

“Our message is that this service is unique and dedicated to patient care and quality and is definitely worth saving,” Ratliff said. For more information, go online to https://tcls.org/.

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