By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

Commissioners discuss air ambulance service


February 24, 2021

Quay County commissioners on Monday seemed receptive Monday to a proposal to pay about $24,000 to provide emergency air ambulance service for every household in the county.

Commissioners didn’t act on the proposition from Ryan Smith of Rico Aviation but openly discussed paying for the service after the county begins budget discussions for the next fiscal year in April.

The proposal from Phoenix-based PHI Air Medical and Rico, based in Amarillo, would offer special-rate memberships for every household in Quay County and surround counties. The memberships would cover all out-of-pocket expenses for emergency medical transport by helicopter or plane, including co-pays and deductibles. Smith said it is the lowest rate in the industry.

The annual membership fee would be $8 per household for all of the estimated 3,040 households in the Quay County for a total of $24,320. Smith said that sum soon could rise or fall, depending on the number of households counted in the just-completed 2020 census.

Smith said the medical helicopter at Trigg Memorial Hospital in Tucumcari can provide 15-minute service within a 40-mile radius. He said the national-average expense for air medical transport is $10,000, though it often is much higher in sparsely populated areas such as rural Quay County.

Commissioner Jerri Rush, a volunteer firefighter in Forrest, noted the cost of membership Rico and PHI are offering was about one-tenth of individual air-medical memberships.

County manager Richard Primrose said no money currently is budgeted for the proposal, but he said it could be added to next fiscal year’s budget when discussions for it begin in April. He said possible intergovernmental agreements with the hospital and area municipalities also could reduce the county’s share of the cost.

Smith said whenever the agreement is accepted, it would last for a full calendar year and not be prorated.

In other business:

• Commissioners approved a request to use the Quay County Fairgrounds for a Steer and Heifer Jackpot livestock show that may be scheduled as soon as March.

Jason Lamb, the county’s extension agricultural agent, said the event comes with assurances it would follow COVID-safe guidelines, including masking and social distancing, “as best as possible.”

Jackie Smith, an organizer, said they had wanted such an event in eastern New Mexico for a while, as other Jackpot shows had been organized in the southern part of the state.

She noted many families do much of their preparation for the shows outdoors at their livestock trailers.

Smith said many livestock producers were going to Colorado or Texas for livestock shows instead.

Rush expressed her support for a livestock show in Tucumcari.

“We are missing an opportunity if we don’t let people do this,” she said.

Commissioner Robert Lopez said “I don’t have a problem with it” as long as organizers and participants follow coronavirus-safety rules.

Commission Chairman Franklin McCasland said he supported the fairgrounds hosting the event if organizers do cleanup afterward, especially when the county has fewer personnel available for such duties.

After approval of the request, McCasland directed Smith to work with Primrose on filling out the application with stipulations for cleanup and having proper insurance.

• Commissioners, in a routine matter, approved a third- and fourth-quarter mill levy and gross receipts tax payments totaling $500,000 to Trigg Memorial Hospital.

Hospital administrator Vickie Gutierrez said her facility has administered a total of 1,068 doses of COVID-19 vaccines since December.

In addition to giving Pfizer vaccines, the hospital recently began administering Moderna vaccines. However, a recent Moderna vaccine shipment failed to arrive because of bad winter weather at facilities in Texas and Tennessee.

Gutierrez said the hospital is keeping its own waiting list of residents eligible for the vaccine. She said Trigg is unable to connect with the state Department of Health’s vaccine database because of internet-technology issues. She said many elderly residents eligible for the vaccine also do not use computers that would connect with the state vaccine registration database.

McCasland also noted the state’s toll-free vaccine helpline does not work well.

• Commissioners approved agreements with the county and 10th Judicial District Attorney with Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc. for 20 new global positioning system ankle monitors and three to five alcohol monitors for inmates.

Jail Administrator Christopher Birch said the new GPS monitors provide 24-hour monitoring of an inmate’s movements, and the alcohol monitors can determine a wearer’s blood-alcohol levels from his or her sweat. He said the monitors would allow more inmates to be released from custody, thus lowering the jail’s operation costs and lessening the risk of COVID-19 spread.

The district attorney’s office covered the initial purchase of the monitors. Court fees would provide revenue for their upkeep and reimbursing some expenses.

• Commissioners approved a resolution authorizing the county to submit an application for funding the DWI Program for fiscal year 2022. The measure also included a memorandum of understanding and statement of assurances.

County Finance Director Cheryl Simpson the total requested is $95,388, which is about $4,000 less than the previous year. Funding comes from a state alcohol tax.

• Commissioners approved a resolution recommended by Primrose that supports the passage of New Mexico Senate Bill 174.

The measure, introduced by Sen. Pat Woods (R-Broadview), states capital outlay funding requests for non-governmental projects will not be accepted unless the state, county or municipality has accepted a role as a fiscal agent for the project.

The resolution states distributing such funds to various organizations often conflicts with the state constitution. Primrose, noting capital outlay funds sometimes are awarded to nonprofit organizations without the county’s knowledge, said he appreciates Woods’ bill because it would give protection to municipalities and counties from liability.

• Commissioners and road superintendent Larry Moore went into an executive session to discuss limited personnel matters. No action was taken.


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