If you ask Luke Sypherd why he wanted to lose his job, he’ll tell you it was the right thing to do. The head of the volunteer ambulance service in Washakie County said he’s stepping away to make sure the people of his county can get the care they need now that the demand has outstripped the ability of the volunteers to respond. To do that, the county is partnering with Cody Regional Health.
“They put roots down in a community, they don’t just extend a branch,” Sypherd said.
He will step down as EMS director in Washakie County by May 1, when Cody Regional Health will take over operations in Worland and the surrounding area as part of a contract with Washakie County. It will be the second ambulance station outside of Park County that the hospital will operate after finding success in Basin.
Washakie County’s ambulance service, the oldest licensed service in Wyoming, is an entirely volunteer force. With the service receiving more than 900 calls in a year, Sypherd says the workload has become too great for the volunteer force.
“When you get 800 calls a year, you’re pretty much full-time,” he said. “We’ve got volunteers who work full-time at the sugar factory, as photographers, in other jobs in the medical field … Now those who wanted to do it for a job can and it’s not eating into every other aspect of their lives.”
Though CRH will be operating the service out of a station in Worland, EMS director Phiillp Franklin says the people in Washakie County can expect the same level of care those in Park County get, and Park County residents won’t see any drop in service.
“A lot of times when you expand like this, you lose some quality,” Franklin said. “We make sure that doesn’t happen … Whoever we interact with, we want to practice the best care possible.”
Cody Regional Health has already opened applications to work for the new service in Worland. Two job offers for paramedics (the highest level of certification EMS staff can get) have already been extended, and several of the Washakie EMTs have applied to be on the new staff. The Wilderness Team, which works on Search and Rescue operations, is also looking at ways to expand its services to the new station in Worland.
Having a paid staff member under the CRH umbrella means those working in Washakie will no longer have to eat into vacation time or sick leave to go out on calls. It also increases the pool of people that can help in times of crisis – all with the same training and same standards to follow.
“It stabilizes EMS in Washakie and Park County,” Sypherd said. “If someone gets sick or goes on vacation, there’s a deeper resource pool to pull from.”
CRH now covers ambulance service in at least a portion of three counties, an area roughly the size of Vermont. It’s a process called regionalization, and Sypherd, who also serves on Gov. Mark Gordon’s health care task force, says it is unlike anything he knows of anywhere in the country.
“This scale and size of regionalization does not occur in EMS,” Sypherd said. “This will be nation-leading and industry-leading.”