The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Gogebic County committee formed on ambulance costs


April 26, 2018


Bessemer — The Gogebic County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday agreed to set up a committee to resolve the ambulance service issue in the county, likely by the end of next month.

After meeting as the finance committee with representatives of Beacon Ambulance and one of its owners, John Kutz, the county board agreed to set up the committee in an effort to retain service through the end of the year.

It will be up to county board chair George Peterson, of Watersmeet, to determine the size of the committee, but a three-man panel was backed by the board.

The purpose of the committee will be to come up with a recommendation for the full seven-man board as to how $225,000 will be paid to Beacon through the end of the year.

All municipalities in the county will need to come to a mutual agreement, board members said.

“We should provide leadership,” said board member Jim Oliver, of Ironwood.

“We should be the leader, set an example and promote it,” agreed Jeff Wasley, of Ironwood, who offered the motion to set up the committee.

The recommendation will need to determine if Watersmeet, which uses another service, will be included in the payment and what should be done in Marenisco, which previously turned over its ambulance to Beacon, giving up its service.

Jim Lorenson, chair of the Aspirus Ironwood Hospital board, noted both short- and long-term solutions are needed regarding the future of ambulance service in the county.

At Wednesday’s finance committee meeting, Lorenson said about 73 percent of the ambulance calls in Iron and Gogebic Counties come from Gogebic residents.

With Beacon facing a $300,000 deficit through the end of the year, the cost of continuing the ambulance service on a break-even basis is proposed to be divided 75 to 25 percent, or $225,000 for Gogebic County and $75,000 for Iron County.

It comes out to about $1.57 per month per capita from Gogebic County.

Kutz told the committee Beacon had considered closing its doors in Ironwood and Hurley in February, but in the end he said, “We can’t walk away.” At that point, he said Beacon would have been willing to “turn the keys” over to Aspirus, but, “They don’t want the keys.”

Kutz said as the process moves ahead to determine how the communities will compensate Beacon at higher rates, he’d be willing to open Beacon’s books for review.

He said in the 1990s the ambulance service was a profitable business, but for several reasons, that’s no longer the case.

It was pointed out at the meeting a new ambulance costs about $150,000 and a lift alone costs around $40,000.

Attracting and retaining employees in a business where burn-out is common is another reason it’s tough to run an ambulance business today, he said.

Kutz said Beacon would like to continue to run its well respected business, but it’s tough to maintain enough crew members to do so.

Discussed was a possible special millage and developing an authority.

“This (issue) isn’t going away,” Lorenson said.

He said Gogebic Community College is willing to work at providing courses for emergency medical technicians.

Joe Simonich, of Kimball, Wis., a former Beacon responder, said he was saved by the ambulance service 12 years ago when he had a massive heart attack. “We don’t want to lose what we have. We just need help,” he said.

Wakefield City Manager Richard Brackney said his council was in favor of the city paying its share of the costs, around $12,000.

“Are you prepared to step up the to the plate?” he said is the question that must be asked.


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