If you’re seriously injured in a traffic accident in Colorado, who comes to render aid, how much training and experience they have, and even how long it takes them to arrive will vary drastically depending on where you are. And so will your chances of living and dying.
That’s because in emergency medicine, minutes matter. The “golden hour” is a real concept. And Colorado is a state with 82 percent of its 5.2 million people concentrated along the Front Range from Fort Collins to Pueblo. And a state with vast sweeps of rural land, including three of the country’s 15 least-populous counties.
Those realities have spawned a patchwork emergency medical system where a wide disparity exists between the on-the-ground care you could expect along a rural highway and what you would see along the urbanized Front Range.
Part of the disparity is the result of geography – huge swaths of rural land means long distances from crash scene to emergency room. Part is the result of philosophy – emergency care is concentrated where the most people live. And part is an outgrowth of Colorado’s long history of “local control” – where local officials figure out how best to care for those who suffer life-threatening traumatic injuries, and where many rural areas are served by volunteers whose dedication is not in question but whose training and experience may pale compared to their urban counterparts.
“If you live in urban Colorado, the response is quick,” said Randy Kuykendall, interim director of the state’s emergency medical system. “If you live in rural Colorado, it’s longer, and it’s a day-to-day struggle.”
I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS analyzed 10 years of traffic fatality records compiled by the Colorado Department of Transportation and then compared it to the average population in each county over a decade – calculating a rate equal to the number of deaths per 10,000 residents in road crashes. The I-News inquiry found the highest rates of traffic fatalities were in small remote counties – Mineral, Cheyenne, San Juan, Kiowa and Baca. The lowest rates were Arapahoe, Boulder, Jefferson, Douglas and Denver. The full report can be found here.