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Health district renamed, 911 dispatch to be improved

By Kristen Hackbarth

Members of the Washoe Board of County Commissioners and Reno and Sparks city councils on Friday during a joint meeting unanimously approved the renaming of the Washoe County Health District to Northern Nevada Public Health. 

The new name includes the tagline “Serving Reno, Sparks and Washoe County.”

The name change was unanimously approved. 

A renaming of the health district was discussed in January 2021. During the pandemic the health district became a focal point in the community with many people confusing its association with the county government and the Washoe County School District. 

Sparks City Council member Kristopher Dahir also noted that the name change would allow the district to be more recognizable and carry a greater presence statewide, as does Southern Nevada Health District in Clark County.

The new name came after months of work behind the scenes led by an internal naming committee working with local agency the Estipona Group. Dozens of names were narrowed to five before a statewide survey and five focus groups reviewed the options. 

Reno City Council member Bonnie Weber asked why the word district wasn’t included in the name since the agency is, by governmental standards, a district. 

Kyle Brice of the Estipona Group said the previous rebranding to replace the word “department” in the name with “district” was never fully embraced. They decided to leave it out this time around. 

Work group approved to review emergency dispatch services

An ambulance crosses the Virginia Street Bridge.
An ambulance crosses the Virginia Street Bridge. Image: Bob Conrad

Commissioners and council members also approved the creation of a regional work group to address improvements to emergency services in the Truckee Meadows. 

The region’s 911 system, which includes different dispatches for Reno, Sparks and Washoe County, is inefficient and duplicates efforts and resources, said Sparks City Manager Neil Krtuz in a presentation to council and commission members. 

He noted that in 2021 more than 40% of emergency medical service calls for Sparks fire crews – about 80% of total calls – are canceled once trucks are on route because another emergency service also responded. 

Reno Assistant City Manager JW Hodge said the goal of the regional work group would be to build a system that prioritizes the 911 caller experience, reduce duplication of response, minimize the burden on agencies and provide the most appropriate response for the caller.

Officials discussed at length the need to include fire and EMS management and labor groups, dispatchers and community members in the work group and to set a timeline for group activities. 

Hodge said the plan is to begin work within the next several weeks.

“Our valley is one community whether it be Sparks, Reno, wherever…I don’t care whose letters are on the side of the fire truck.”

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, among others, spoke of the 2012 “fire divorce” when Reno Fire Department split from Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District – largely over cost and budget concerns – and the potential for renewed collaboration. 

The approval of the regional work group won’t necessarily result in consolidation of fire and emergency response services, however. 

“From the staff perspective at the City of Sparks I think asking a specific question about consolidation or regionalization or going to a single dispatch is premature,” Krutz said. “I think that as we’re looking for solutions that make improvements to the system that lead to better outcomes, that’s the question we start with today.”

Washoe County Manager Eric Brown agreed. 

“Consolidation at this point is not a fait accompli. What we’re saying is a regionalized effort, which is not the same as consolidation….I’m not ruling it out but that’s not where we are at this point,” he said.

Community members providing public comment were all in favor of improved cooperation between agencies, some specifically referencing the closest resource response model. They also asked for multiple community members with no ties to emergency or government agencies to be included in the work group.

Denise Callan, a director of the Mountaingate homeowners association in south Reno off Arrowcreek Parkway, said her neighborhood is facing longer response times because of “disagreements and petty arguments over who gets dispatched.”

“That doesn’t serve our community,” she said. “Our valley is one community whether it be Sparks, Reno, wherever…I don’t care whose letters are on the side of the fire truck. We care who shows up the fastest and who is willing to help our community.” 

Reno City Council member Jenny Brekhus did not support the motion to approve the guiding principles for the work group nor formation of the working group. 

She said one of the principles – which include governance, organization, foundation and funding – should also be a “faithful commemoration of the past guidance and history on this issue.” 

She added that a number of developments approved by Reno City Council were in part based on city staff recommendation that fire coverage existed, “but I think we really don’t [have coverage],” she said. “What I think Reno needs to do is follow the master plan that adopts service levels and follow through with this….This is going to be a big long exercise and I just don’t think it’s the best approach.”

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