The long-awaited dedication for the Utah Navajo Health System EMS ambulance garage was held on February 27, with a large crowd of nearly 300 in attendance.
A year after the UNHS EMS program began, with four ambulances, the ambulance garage is completed, and ready to for use. The planned outdoor ceremony was moved inside the building because of rains that turned the grounds around the building into a soggy mess. UNHS CEO Michael Jensen welcomed dignitaries and community members, and announced the new building is the first new building for the organization since the Dental Clinic, in Blanding, was officially opened in early 2014.
"But as we continue to grow and add people and programs and services, I suspect we'll be doing more of this in the future," Jensen said. "But this is a very exciting day."
The event opened with the flag ceremony performed by the Aneth Military Veterans Association and the National Anthem by elemen- tary students from the Aneth Community School.
Dustin Coggeshell, EMS Director, Non-Emergency Transport Director and Advance-EMT for UNHS, told the gathering the new ambulance garage is a big upgrade for his department. He said the building will house three ambulances, an advanced life support interfacility ambulance, an advanced 911 ambulance and a reserve ambulance. The building will also be the new home for the Non-Emergency Medical Transport Program, with offices for the EMS program administration, training facilities for EMS programs and the maintenance shop. The maintenance shop has a large-capacity hoist to service the ambulances and the UNHS vehicle fleet of fifty six vehicles.
Coggeshell explained that the patient transport program provides access to medical care for eligible patients without reliable transportation, or any transporta- tion. Drivers take patients to appointments within the Four Corners Area, or out to Salt Lake City or St. George for specialty care. They also transport patients to local clinics to see their provi-ders.
"That program has grown from two people and four vehicles, when we started, to about sixty vehicles and thirty-five drivers," Cogge-shell said. "We provide wheel chair transports, stretcher transports and regular ambulatory transports. We provide a lot of service to the dialysis centers in Tuba City, Kayenta, Blue Mountain Hospital, Cortez and Shiprock every week. It's really an important program".
Coggeshell said the EMS program is meant to improve service, help save lives and help make a difference. And it does that 24/7 thanks to EMS crewmembers.
"They're the ones that make it happen," he said. "They're the ones that go through the training with training officer Ray Whaley."
Planning for the new ambulance garage started four years ago, and Coggeshell said he was glad to be standing in the completed building for the celebration. He thanked Jensen, current CFO William Harrison, UNHS Board members Wilfred Jones and Robert Whitehorse, former CEO Donna Singer and UNHS Medical Director Dr. Val Jones.
"When Patient Transport and EMS first started, when the development began, it was Donna Singer that really helped me," Coggeshell added, while presenting Singer with a special plaque to thank her for her efforts with this project. "She was a big part in making this happen."
UNHS Board Chairman Robert Whitehorse also spoke, saying the EMS program and the ambulance garage are really important.
"As you know, when there's a clinic, yes. there's doctors that can save a life," Whitehorse said. "But when you have a problem out on the road, that's another program that needs to be improved. So the Board approved the funds to put up this building. Ever since this program started we have saved lives by quickly running out there. We have improved response time by about 15 minutes. And now we have quick access to the highway and we're closer to the patient. We have established a program that will train the EMT's and we have a staff that is working throughout the day and even at night. That's the kind of program this is. So it is really unique what we have."
Dr. Val Jones spoke to the gathering and praised the UNHS EMT's for their hard work and dedication.
"EMT's give a lot of their time and I'm sure they don't get paid nearly enough for the great service that they do," Jones said. "I work in the ER so we're on the receiving end of where these folks have picked up patients from car wrecks or from their homes, and I want everyone to know that the EMT's we have in our county, and in the south end of the county, are top quality. They do save lives regularly and we are so blessed to have this presence of EMS services on the south end of the county.
"I'd like to thank Dustin for all the great work he's done in getting the EMS program going and his leadership," Jones continued. "This is a great looking building and I know Dustin is going to be spending a great deal of time in here. It's one of the nicest buildings in the Montezuma Creek area."
Jones told the gathering he's been with UNHS since January of 2000, when the organization first started with about 15 people working in the clinic in Montezuma Creek.
"And I'm really sorry and embarrassed to say that I did not have the vision of what we would be today. I didn't have the vision that our administration, former administration and current administration, has. I didn't have that vision that the Board of Directors has. Wilfred Jones was our previous president and what a great job he did in leading our organization. I salute all the leaders that we've had and their ability to bring this organization to where it is now. I am a believer now. And when we have community members and other members say we need this, I think that UNHS can deliver it."
Donna Singer also praised Coggeshell and the great job he's done in leading the UNHS EMS program.
"Dustin deserves so much credit for this because he came to me and said, 'Donna the ambulance is coming out of Blanding and even though they do the best they can, it takes too long to get here. We have to do something about this.' So this man was the real pusher. I climbed on the wagon with him."
Singer also talked about the future of UNHS and the need for everyone in San Juan County to work together.
"I want you to know that as we move forward, it's always, you can do more, better, faster if you can get everybody working together," she said. "It's not about Navajo and white people. It's about God's children who need services. That's what it is. And together, if we can get everybody together and recognizing that this county goes from the Arizona border to Moab, that we can all work together, we can do so much more for everyone.
"I'll tell you a little story about this particular project," Singer added. "One of the things we had to do was get some land and you know how hard it is to get land released by the Navajo nation. But there were checkerboards of state land in this area so we talked with the people involved with that and got state approval to put it up for auction. They worked with us very closely with all that. I got a call on a Friday morning and they told me, 'everything is passed and if you can come up here and sign these papers today, then UNHS will own those pieces of land. But we have to do it before 5 o'clock. I was down here in Montezuma Creek and the papers were in Salt Lake. I left here at 1 pm and I had to be at the state capital before 5 o'clock. You can imagine. I have to admit that I have a reputation for getting there quickly. But I said a prayer and took off and I got there at five minutes to five and signed those papers."
Singer closed by telling the group that UNHS, including the EMS program, is an example of the Navajo people stepping up and saying we want better health care and we're all going to work together to make that happen.
"What we've done here is show what the Navajo people can do. What you can do," Singer said. "I just want you to know that your Utah Navajo Health System, and now Blue Mountain Hospital, are known nationally, nationally! And they are an example of what the native people can do. So I plead with you to continue because there are more things that need to happen; more things that we need to do. And working together we can do it."