Declining population, the strike at ASARCO, aging infrastructure, increase in construction costs, minimum wage increase and, of course, the pandemic have wreaked havoc on the Copper Corridor communities of Kearny, Hayden and Winkelman. With every new challenge comes more costs; and revenues have not increased enough to support the increased costs with each challenge. Local leaders have had to make tough decisions from closing swimming pools and libraries and reducing recreational services. But public safety and the health and safety of residents is not something local leaders can truly cut back on.
In 2020, after great analysis of the budget, the Town of Kearny announced that it may not be able to continue to fund the ambulance department. With other costs increasing and lack of corporate sponsorships and grant funding available, there were not many more solutions and continuing the service may mean the town would need to eventually un-incorporate. The continued operation of the ambulance service was pushing the Town of Kearny into insolvency.
The Kearny Ambulance service provides emergency medical services from the top of the divide on Highway 177, through Kearny, Hayden, Winkelman, Dripping Springs and all the way to almost Aravaipa. This is a very large area to cover and transports are often very long depending on which hospital a patient is transferred to. The Apache Sky Casino, operated through the San Carlos Apache Tribe, provided some grant funding to offer some support for the ongoing operations. Resolution Copper and Asarco also offered some support but these funding mechanisms would create enough economic sustainability for the long term operations. There was a need for solution and fast.
Winkelman Mayor Louis Bracamonte reached out to Gila County Supervisor Woody Cline, expressing his concerns for the dire situations their communities were facing. Even though Kearny is in Pinal County, this situation called for a solution across multiple communities and both counties would need to work together on a solution. Cline took the initiative to convene a regional meeting to develop a solution and even called the Governor’s office to alert them to this dire situation.
“In July of 2020, I was approached by Winkelman Mayor Bracamonte regarding the Kearny Ambulance Service and the fiscal issues they were experiencing,” Cline said. “I facilitated a meeting with the local mayors and former Pinal County Supervisor Pete Rios to learn more about the problem and to determine how we could all pull together to resolve the issue. Our first meeting was held in August and we received an overview from Kearny regarding their financial situation. After another couple of meetings and phone calls I scheduled a meeting in November with Neal Jensen, CEO of Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center (CVRMC) to determine if the hospital was interested in taking over the ambulance services. CVRMC had done a little preliminary work regarding the ambulance service and once they learned that Kearny was having serious financial issues Mr. Jensen and his staff immediately began the process to acquire the Kearny Ambulance Service. I can’t express strongly enough our appreciation to CVRMC and Neal Jensen for moving so quickly to help out the citizens of Kearny and the surrounding areas to continue to receive emergency services.”
“The Town of Kearny is excited for the continuance of Ambulance Service for the Town and surrounding areas, that Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center will be taking on. The Town was given an ultimatum by their financial consultant to cease the Ambulance service by December or become un-incorporated,” explained Town Clerk/Interim Town Manager, Martina Burnam.
Burnam credits the success of this agreement to the the strong advocacy of former Town Manager Anna Flores, and former Mayor Debra Sommers and the Town Council.
“The Town’s budget will become solvent again and hopefully the threat of un-incorporating will be a solution the Town doesn’t ever hear again,” she said.
The process to switch over the ambulance service to a new provider required a change of licensee and inspection to ensure the services would meet operating standards and ensure there would not be competing services. This application is required by the Arizona Department of Health Services. Local leaders advocated for a speedy approval on the application process to ensure residents of the Copper Basin did not lose their ambulance service and the Town of Kearny budget would become balanced once again.
Cobre Valley Regional Medical center will official take over the ambulance service on March 1, 2021.
“The Town of Kearny truly appreciates the relationship we have with CVRMC and all they do for the Town,” Burnam said.