K’ima:w Ambulance Facing $470,000 budget Shortfall
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
K’ima:w Medical Center provides ambulance service to rural communities and hundreds of miles of national forest in eastern Humboldt County and western Trinity County and is facing a budget shortfall of $470,000 this year.
Mary Benedict, Controller and acting CEO of K’ima:w Medical Center, said emergency services like the ambulance are critical to the area, but no surrounding communities have stepped up to help share the costs.
“We have top-notch paramedics and EMTs. They’re the most highly-trained in the county, if not the state,” Benedict said. “But that training comes at a cost.”
She said that reimbursements from Medicare and medical insurance providers don’t cover the costs to run the service.
“The true cost is in having two full-time staffed ambulances waiting 24 hours a day for a call,” Benedict said. “We don’t get reimbursed for standby time.”
One ambulance is based in Hoopa, and the second is based just east of Willow Creek. Both are fitted with Advanced Life Support (ALS) equipment because the nearest hospital is at least an hour away.
Emergency Medical Technician Andy Kinniman said “There are such limited rescue resources out here, that a lot of the time we’re the only ones there.”
That can mean anything from helping expectant mothers, to carrying injured hikers or rafters out of the nearby national forests, to freeing people who are trapped in their cars after road accidents.
“That’s why we need the outlying areas and communities to help pay for the service,” Benedict said, “so it will still be available for everybody.”
Hoopa Tribal Council Chairman Leonard Masten Jr., said he met with representatives from nearby tribes and communities to come up with a solution.
“Everyone agrees that they have to have it, and that’s as far as it goes,” Masten said. “But something’s going to have to happen.”
The Hoopa Valley Tribe has covered the budget shortfalls for the ambulance service for many years by taking money from other departments.
“This is money that would otherwise be available for other services or could be used to expand the services that we provide to the community,” Benedict said.
Hoopa Tribal Council Member Ryan Jackson said that the Hoopa people shouldn’t have to bear the full burden.
“That burden should be shared by the surrounding communities as well as the county,” Jackson said.
K’ima:w’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and the new one begins Oct. 1, but there are no solid commitments from any of the surrounding tribes or communities.
I think they’re hoping that we’ll find a way to cover it again,” Masten said. “But this year we’ve got to do something. It’s come to the point where we’re unable financially to sustain that service outside of the reservation.”