Within hours of the 2-1 vote by our county commissioners to vacate the current ambulance service contract held by TVHC and give this service to the Teton County Fire Protection District, 20 of our EMS employees received calls from hospital leadership telling them their employment would be ending. Twenty employees and their families are now uncertain about their careers and livelihoods.
We’re sorry. We’re sad. We believe we gave our county leaders every supportable document, testimonial, report and statistic available to show that the service provided by our EMS crew, medical staff and nurses — our team — was clearly the best choice at the best cost for our residents and tourists. And then on Monday, May 16, we lost a service we’ve been providing contractually for 13 years; a service that began with a volunteer force in 1975.
From 1939 to 1975, people in dire emergencies had to find their own way to Teton Valley Hospital. One physician used his station wagon to pick up people and bring them in. Bob Bean, the local funeral director, brought patients to the hospital in his hearse! We have a long and proud history of emergency volunteers and later, paid professionals, who built this service to a high-level paramedic-certified department. These people immersed themselves into the clinical team that’s on hand 24/7 to care for you on what could be the worst day of your life.
Taxpayers voted the Ambulance Service District into existence over a decade ago. On Monday, two people voted to terminate the existing contract, give all operations to the fire district, and wind down the Ambulance Service District. Instead of working together to provide ambulance service in the county, we are now going to have one provider, the fire department. At TVHC, we have expressed, time after time, a desire to forge a true partnership with Fire only to be rebuffed time after time regardless of the greater good that such a partnership could have brought to our community.
To all of our EMS employees and to those in the past who served or supported Teton Valley Ambulance, we give our deepest regards and appreciation. We’re sorry we weren’t able to continue your legacy. We’re sorry that we have families now in turmoil as they try to move ahead with their lives. We’ll continue to place our focus exactly where it should be: on caring for our patients, their families and our community.
We’ll continue to make available all documentation, letters, etc. that we offered to our county commissioners and community throughout this process. Anyone may access these here.
There is an iconic image, central to the development of Teton Valley, that surfaces from time to time in historical reviews. A crowd of well-dressed citizens stands in front of a building faced with stone cut in the rock mills that once operated in the Victor area. Everyone is smiling—for good reason. The year is 1939. For the first time ever, there is a hospital in town.
The young man in the foreground wearing a light colored suit has particular reason to smile. Not many years earlier, he suffered a near fatal bout with pneumonia—a struggle made worse by the fact his treatment occurred far from home. He seemed to do better when the pretty young girl he’d had his eye on for some time was there by his side—not always easy, given the logistics of travel from “the basin” to the lower valley in that era. The young’s man is Merle Kunz. His helpmate during that period, whom he would soon marry, is Maureen Tonks. In time the pair would become my mother- and father-in-law. The smile visible in that picture is a manifestation of the assurance felt by all who gathered that day. Life will be better. There is a hospital in town.
Jump ahead a couple decades. The year is 1959. Another young man has just returned to his birthplace. Donald Coburn fulfills a lifelong dream. He has just purchased the valley’s only pharmacy from J.H. Harper—a business that owes its viability to one simple fact: There is a hospital in town.
Now jump ahead a few more years. My parents closed up shop and made a quick trip “out below” to complete some necessary business, leaving a younger brother in my care. My brother fell off our trampoline and fractured both forearms. We walked a half block and found Doctor LaGrande Larsen just closing up shop. He assessed the situation, then applied two plaster casts. We were both back home when the folks returned. All because there was a hospital in town.
Kelley Coburn, TVHC Pharmacist
Not long after that, a friend who was aware of my interest in everything that creeped, crawled, or flew entrusted me with a broken-winged owl found while disking a pasture. There wasn’t a veterinarian in town during that era. The solution was obvious: There was a new physician in town, Dr. Kitchener Head. I showed up in the hospital waiting room with a very disgruntled owl under my arm. Dr. Head treated his feathered patient’s wounds. The owl lived for some time. All because there was a hospital in town.
A couple decades later I became the hospital’s first fulltime pharmacist. A red-letter week occurred soon after when my two oldest daughters gave birth to two daughters over a three day interval. There was a moment during that joyful, hectic period of family expansion when I was given charge of a young grandson. I took him to my workspace and began explaining my duties—reviewing orders, repackaging medications, etc., only to be cut short by a 3-year-old’s succinct observation: “I get it. You’re a slave.” A precious memory that hinged on the fact that there was a hospital in town.
In time another young man, fresh from medical school arrived in town: Dr. Chad Horrocks. One of my daughters became his nurse. One of his patients was troubled by symptoms that might possibly be mitigated by the in-home use of an expensive medical unit. Unfortunately, the patient’s family lacked the means to purchase the needed equipment. Dr. Horrocks was convinced a solution could be found. He asked my daughter Amanda to do some discreet checking around the community. In short order the needed funds were raised. All because there was a hospital in town.
Beginning over 76 years ago, each generation has ensured that the next generation would have the security and privilege of having a hospital nearby, staffed with people who can deliver the best care possible every day, every night, year after year. National Health Care Week is May 8 – 14. We thank our community for making it this week-long recognition relevant to Teton Valley. Because we have a hospital in town.
The Teton County Board of Commissioners has not decided if there needs to be major changes to how ambulance service is delivered in the county. However, after months of discussion, and several meetings, signs point to some sort of change in the works.