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Limited emergency medical services in northern Nye County

Motorists traveling through Nye County could soon see road signs warning them about limited emergency services in the county.

As Nye County is grasping for solutions to Tonopah’s health care crisis, officials proposed highway signs that would caution motorists about limited ambulance service.

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said she had met with the Nevada Department of Transportation and requested signs be placed on each state highway entering the county.

“I believe one of the items that would be on the wish list is to replace the emergency signs on all of the state highways coming into Nye County, that say ‘911’ with something more akin to ‘travel at your own risk’ or ‘limited 911’ and NDOT is willing to put that up,” Wichman said. “I think that would be a very minor step in the right direction. People need to know what risk they run through these communities that have very limited volunteer services.”

Wichman said NDOT officials will include the request in its Nye County activities when NDOT meets with county officials during a Pahrump workshop in the near future.

Tony Illia, NDOT spokesman, said the agency is currently looking into the matter after talking to Wichman.

“Indeed, this is something we are exploring,” Illia said in an email. “However, nothing is definite. If this project moves forward, we would still need to work out cost, schedule, quantity and placement, among other factors.”

Intermittent service

As the Tonopah volunteer ambulance is trying to rebuild its operations, the local and county governments are engaged in a collaborative effort to expand the limited medical services in Tonopah, which lost its only hospital in 2015. The nearest hospitals are more than 100 miles away.

Lorina Dellinger, assistant county manager, said that the Tonopah Town Board will consider a request to fund single resource contracted paramedics or AEMTs through REMSA to supplement partial teams of the Tonopah Volunteer Ambulance Service. A special meeting is to take place on Dec. 1.

“Our goal is to provide gap coverage for shifts not covered through the end of the year,” Dellinger said. “At that time, the county is hopeful an agreement is reached between the Northern Nye County Hospital District and Renown and REMSA for a long-term Community Health Program services solution.

Tonopah’s volunteer ambulance crew was down to several people as some volunteers were unable to continue full-time service due to family and medical issues in the weeks leading to Thanksgiving.

Nye County officials entered into a contract with Reno-based REMSA, a private nonprofit service from Nov. 13 through Nov. 27. that provided a 24/7 ground ambulance to Tonopah.

Dellinger said Nye County had developed a relationship with REMSA, and currently supports the Nye County Hospital District Board’s initiative to bring medical services to Tonopah. REMSA is incorporated in that plan, Dellinger said.

“There’s been a lot of concern here in the community about how we go from here,” Dellinger told Nye County commissioners at the Nov. 21 meeting.

Dellinger said Nye County hopes to develop a long-term solution that would involve both REMSA and Renown, which might not be integrated until April.

“We’ve been researching where we go from here, identifying our resources, and the main concern is trying to get more people involved with our volunteers. They are running really thin,” Dellinger said.

‘Daunting task’

The town of Tonopah, meanwhile, has offered funding to support the efforts to bring medical services, Dellinger said. “We need to identify where we could put that funding if it’s reaching out to REMSA to provide EMT support, if we can do something with the stipends, but we will be bringing items forward before the commissioners,” Dellinger said.

Wichman said that the health care crisis in Tonopah is not a “shortcoming” of its volunteers, but a “daunting task.”

“When we lost the hospital two-and-a-half years ago, it moved volunteers in that area from responding to a two to four-hour call to a 10-hour call on the average, and sometimes, much more,” Wichman said.

“When you are asking that much time of a volunteer, you are taking that much time away from their family and their regular job that pays them. Some of those employers are not able to turn loose of those people for that period of time over and over and over again. So, this is no shortcoming of the volunteers, it’s a daunting task.”

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com

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