Council questions ambulance costs

Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

At the end of a presentation representatives of Newcastle’s ambulance provider  informed the Newcastle City Council that the ambulance service would be requesting an increase of $10,000 during the upcoming budget session. If the increase is approved, Newcastle would pay $110,000 for the service in the next fiscal year. 


The increase in annual cost, coupled with complaints and concerns from constituents, prompted some members of the council to question the level of service provided by Campbell County Health’s EMS team.


Campbell County Health took over emergency medical services in Weston County on July 1, 2021, and on March 6 of this year, Christopher Beltz, paramedic and director of urgent and emergent services, and Shawna Cochran, manager of emergency medical services, attended the Newcastle City Council meeting to provide a breakdown of the services provided in 2022.


Several council members stated that they did not believe the community was getting the same level of service provided by Newcastle Ambulance Services under the ownership of Roger Hespe. 


“There were four buses (ambulances) with Roger, and now there is one,” Councilman Don Steveson said. 


He further noted that he has received complaints that Weston County Health Services has had to wait for an ambulance to transfer patients. 


“With the money we are paying for the service, we thought the level of service would be maintained. That level of service is not being maintained in my eyes,” Stevenson continued. “Many times, there is only one ambulance staffed.” 


Councilman Tyrel Owens also said he was not happy about one ambulance being fully staffed in Newcastle. He said that although there are two “buses” at the ambulance bay, there is  only enough staff to have one running 24/7. 


“Even though we have two here, only one is staffed. That is alarming to me,” Owens said. “I was under the impression when we granted the subsidy to the ambulance service that we were still going to be receiving the same sort of service that we received from Hespe. It doesn’t seem like we are. We want to service our constituents the best we can, and it has kind of caused a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.” 


He also noted that the word on the street is that Life Flight is being used more often, which he said is causing residents to incur more costs. 


Steveson then asked if there would be an increase in the level of service if the city paid the additional $10,000, and Mayor Pam Gualtieri went a step further by indicating that Beltz had said that Campbell County Health was not dependent on the subsidy from the city in initial conversations with the ambulance service.


Beltz responded that he meant to say that Campbell County Health was committed to providing the service to Weston County, even if it had to operate at a loss the first year.  


“I may have misspoken when we first presented,” Beltz said. “We were committed at the time, and we thought that if things were the same, we could make it a sustainable service. That did include the $100,000.” 


Beltz said that, like ambulance services across the state and nation, Newcastle and Campbell County Health are facing a lack of staff. 


“It is not like we are interviewing and turning people down. We don’t have the interest,” he said, noting that insurance requirements with Campbell County Health do not allow the service to use volunteers as Hespe could as a private business. 


Gualtieri assured Beltz and Cochran that the council appreciated the services provided, but that they could not answer resident’s concerns without bringing them to the attention of Campbell County Health. 

“It is appropriate. When anyone approaches you with complaints, if it is appropriate, forward those to us,” Beltz said. “We don’t want anyone doubting the service.” 


He noted that he would be frank with constituents and expressed the hope they would be frank with Campbell County Health as well. 


“We are happy to provide the service over here,” Cochran added. “We work hard and are providing services to Upton without them being able to provide supplemental funds. Areas are struggling, and we are trying to reach out to small communities that can’t do it themselves. We have to, no one else is going to. We enjoy being here. Our crews enjoy being here, and we are happy to provide the service. 


Ambulance service by the numbers 


Total calls: 672

Transports: 417

Medicals: 300

Traumas: 199

Interfacility transfers: 118

Air medical flights: 8

Fire department standbys: 8

Special event standbys: 25

Other transports: 14


Response times

Average enroute time: 2.32 minutes

Average time to scene: 9.1 minutes

On-duty staff responses: 547 with 344 transports

Off-duty staff responses: 23 with 16 transports

*Campbell County responses: 102 with 57 transports

*These resources were repositioned to the Newcastle base to provide service coverage.


Call locations

Newcastle city limits: 568

Upton area: 76

Osage area: 22

Four Corners area: 4


Gross service revenue: $1,344,651

Net service revenue: $956,190 (71% of gross revenue)

Total operating expenses: $953,603

Net income: $2,587


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