Working as an emergency medical responder in the Flathead Valley for 17 years and a paramedic for the last 14 years, Brodie Verworn has watched the population grow while the fire and ambulance infrastructure has failed to keep up.
Seeing the need for additional services in the valley, Verworn bought an ambulance on eBay in January and officially launched Vitalogy EMS, a private ambulance and education service, in March and hopes to begin transporting patients by mid–May.
“The difference being a private service is I don’t have a fire district that I’m responsible for,” Verworn said.
With Vitagoly, Verworn will have the freedom to respond and transport patients in any fire district countywide and statewide, crossing state lines if needed. The service will be funded through patients’ health insurance and private pay, meaning it won’t be reliant on levies and taxpayer money.
Dispatched calls will not go through the 911 emergency system to start, and Vitalogy’s services would be requested directly by individuals, emergency departments and assisted living centers. In the future, Verworn is open to operating within the 911 system if Flathead County needs his services.
“We’re alleviating the stress of an already taxed 911 system,” Verworn said.
After working for Big Mountain and Bigfork fire departments over the past several years, Verworn says patients sometimes have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for a transport because ambulances are busy on other calls.
“Last year, it was so bad,” Verworn said. “Evergreen Fire responded in Kalispell’s jurisdiction over 500 times for mutual aid. Even though (Kalispell) just hired four people, they have to close their station and pull other people in, and with that, it’s a great opportunity for a private service. It’s not only an opportunity, but it’s needed.”
While the private, nonprofit ambulance Three Rivers EMS operates out of Columbia Falls, Verworn says more services are needed in the valley and that private ambulances are common statewide and nationwide.
In Montana, Missoula Emergency Services Inc. (MESI), Great Falls Emergency Services and Polson and Ronan Ambulance Service are all owned privately, following a nationwide trend. Global ground and air ambulance service American Medical Response (AMR) is the largest privately owned company in the country and also serves the Billings area.
“There’s been talk of a private ambulance here for years,” Verworn said. “There was talk of AMR coming here … There was a big hesitation because of them moving here and installing their ways with people out of the region and out of the state.”
Verworn takes pride in his locally focused service, hiring local employees and paying them livable wages. Entry-level EMTs will start at around $15 an hour with experienced paramedics paid about $25 an hour.
Verworn has been teaching healthcare education on and off since 2005 and is currently teaching courses including CPR and EMS refreshers as part of Vitalogy’s education component.
Using fidelity simulation mannequins that show life-like body functions like chest rise and reactive eyes, Verworn gives realistic training for students and offers a six-to-one student to instructor ratio.
“It’s good to be able to bring quality education around here as well as ensuring our staff is educated with the best educators and the best equipment,” Verworn said.
Verworn plans to start providing services in May with a goal of four ambulances by the end of 2021 and six ambulances by summer 2022.
Literally meaning the study of life, the name Vitalogy was inspired by Pearl Jam’s third studio album while also giving meaning to Verworn’s work.
“It’s a shout out to my favorite band that goes along with the study of life from both an educational standpoint and a provider standpoint,” Verworn said.
For more information, visit www.vitalogyeducation.com.
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