Humboldt County Moves to Supplement Hoopa Ambulance with $200,000

K’ima:w Medical Center CEO Glenna Starritt and Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten stood at the podium during the Humboldt County Board of Supervisor’s meeting on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. / Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

Faced with the imminent closure of one of K’ima:w Medical Center’s two ambulance bases, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors agreed to provide $200,000 to help keep two fully-staffed ambulances operating in Eastern Humboldt.

Humboldt County 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said, “For the last 20 to 25 years the Hoopa Valley Tribe has run and financed the ambulance service in Hoopa, Orleans, Weitchpec, Willow Creek, the 299 corridor all the way up into Trinity County, but now the Tribe is facing severe budget cuts because of sequestration.”

K’ima:w Medical Center has provided ambulance service to rural communities and hundreds of miles of national forest in eastern Humboldt County and western Trinity County, at the cost of a nearly $500,000 shortfall each year.

Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten said that the Tribe couldn’t afford to take a half million dollar loss for another year.

“Times are different now and we have to make tough choices,” Vigil-Masten told the Board of Supervisors. “I just came from a budget meeting, and people are upset that we’re losing jobs.”

“I’d rather see my people employed than provide an outside service,” Vigil-Masten said.

The Tribe has maintained two full-time staffed ambulances; one based in Hoopa, and the other 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.

Without support from the County and the other tribes in the area, the Tribe was prepared to shut down the Willow Creek base and cut back to just a single ambulance serving the Hoopa Square.

This would leave most of Eastern Humboldt County without any ambulance or search and rescue capability in case of an over-the-bank accident along Highway 299 or along Highway 96 north of Hoopa.

Glenna Starritt, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of K’ima:w Medical Center, said, “Whether or not we maintain the ambulance service in Willow Creek is contingent on this meeting here.”

Rod Johnson, head of K’ima:w’s ambulance service and director of Emergency Medical Services, said, “If we furlough our qualified EMT and over-the-bank rescue-trained staff, we won’t get those people back. They’ll go somewhere else.”

Humboldt County 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn said, “This is a life and death situation.”

Virginia Bass, Humboldt County’s 4th District Supervisor, agreed. “We all have friends and relatives who drive over that road.”

Phillip Crandall, Health and Human Services director for Humboldt County, said, “I can say unequivocally that this is a vital service for Humboldt County residents. Every day we go without ambulance service could cost lives.”

Supervisors Bohn, Bass, Sundberg, and Mark Lovelace voted to direct County staff to meet with staff from the Hoopa Valley Tribe to draw up an agreement where the Tribe would guarantee the ambulance service for another year in exchange for $200,000 in support from the County.

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