Regional emergency medical service would be Franklin County’s second
DEERFIELD — In the fall, townspeople in Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately will have to decide whether to stick with their existing volunteer emergency medical departments or upgrade to a regional paramedic service.
Their decision could impact whether they will see a white and red Baystate Health Ambulance speeding down their neighborhood streets.
Town leaders and EMS directors are developing a plan to create a regional 24/7 paramedic-level ambulance service for southern Franklin County. The plans are still subject to change.
The regional town-based EMS service would become the second 24/7 paramedic coverage service in the county after Baystate Health Ambulance.
The proposed South County service could mean the three towns would no longer have to rely on Baystate Health Ambulance to provide paramedic backup in the three towns.
The three towns could handle the calls themselves with their own paramedics.
The three towns currently have volunteer call force EMS departments. None of the towns can staff an ambulance 24/7 or guarantee a paramedic response. Though Deerfield has paramedics on staff, the department is licensed as an intermediate level. The Deerfield paramedics can’t act as paramedics.
This means if there is a call on North Main Street with cardiac symptoms, the Deerfield ambulance is toned out to the scene. The Deerfield EMTs also call Baystate Health Ambulance to come with paramedics. But if Baystate already has two ambulances out, Deerfield has to find another paramedic service in the area, such as Northampton Fire.
According to Deerfield EMT Director Matt Russo, if Deerfield were paramedic level, it could assess the patient at the scene immediately and bring the patient quickly to the hospital.
The town ambulance would no longer have to wait for other services to respond, Russo said.
“With a paramedic-level ambulance, you can get treatment right on the spot,” said former Deerfield Town Administrator Bernard Kubiak. “Rather than waiting the 20-minute ride to the hospital, you can get treated right away.”
“There’s always a delay for Baystate to respond,” Kubiak added. “You’re putting yourself at risk. People are gambling with their health by not having a paramedic-level ambulance. Baystate can be 10 to 20 minutes plus to respond depending on what they’re doing.”
Based out of its High Street, Greenfield, station, Baystate Health Ambulance responded to 123 calls to Deerfield for paramedic level assistance in 2012. It also responded to eight calls in Whately and 35 calls in Sunderland.
Southern Franklin County’s final decision may have little impact on Baystate Health Ambulance, however.
“I don’t think this decision by the towns will impact our service,” said Brian Simonds, the director of Baystate Health Ambulance. “We only assist with paramedic service. We’re backup.”
The primary focus for Baystate Health Ambulance is communities that don’t have their own ambulance services, according to Simonds. These towns include Greenfield, Turners Falls, Millers Falls, Montague, Erving, Gill, Shelburne, Bernardston and Leyden.
Other towns contract with Baystate to provide paramedic service when needed. When someone needs a higher level of help like paramedic, the town EMTs make a call to Baystate to respond. These towns are Conway, Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shelburne Falls, Colrain and Northfield. These towns have municipal basic level service.
This system falls under what is called the paramedic service intercept.
The third tier of response for Baystate is mutual aid, when a town ambulance needs additional help through EMTs and ambulances. The Baystate EMTs will respond along with the town’s EMTs.
In total, Baystate EMTs responded to 3,500 advanced paramedic calls, 1,350 basic calls, 491 intercept calls and 295 mutual aid calls in 2012 in Franklin County.
Just because the South County towns may choose their own paramedic service, doesn’t mean Baystate won’t continue to provide help.
“We would never say no,” said Timothy Toth, the EMS supervisor at Baystate.
There are some similarities and differences between the Baystate ambulance service and the proposed South County service.
The main similarity is the staffing. Like Baystate, the proposed South County service would be a 24/7 paramedic-level service.
The staffing would be a change from the existing volunteer, call force.
The proposed staffing is a mix of full-time positions plus per diem paramedics and EMTs scheduled for regular shifts.
Currently, Baystate has 18 paramedics, two intermediates and eight basic EMTs to cover eight towns.
There are three levels of EMT service: basic, intermediate and paramedic. They differ in the level of care technicians can provide. A basic EMT can provide CPR, while an intermediate EMT can provide intravenous therapy. In addition to that, a paramedic can administer drugs and cardiac monitors in the field.
In the truck, Baystate EMTs have the option of radioing the hospital to get medical advice from an emergency doctor. But the town EMTs would be able to call in doctors too if they upgrade.
“Paramedics can give medication. We’re the doctor’s eyes and ears in the field,” Toth added.
The South County service would have one ambulance and one ready reserve to cover three towns, or 66.86 square miles. The ambulance would likely be the current Deerfield truck with Sunderland’s serving as backup.
At Baystate, there are six trucks. Three are staffed Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the option of putting a fourth truck into service. On the weekends and at nights, two trucks are operating.
The biggest difference is funding.
Baystate Health derives much of its budget from health insurance companies. It is a private service that does not depend on any tax dollars.
For instance, Simonds said for Greenfield, Baystate funds itself through service it provides.
“Insurance pays for it when used,” Simonds said. “We invest every dollar we have back into newer equipment.”
The proposed South County Emergency Medical Services, on the other hand, would be a municipal service shared by the three towns. It would be funded by both health insurance and tax dollars.
This year in Sunderland, the total fire and EMS department budget amounted to $186,525. Under the regional draft budget, Sunderland taxpayers’ costs would increase by $54,186.
Deerfield taxpayers currently pay $190,000 a year for the on-call ambulance service. Taxpayers’ contribution could increase by about $66,732.
Whately taxpayers for next year agreed to pay $56,143 for the EMS budget. The taxpayers would be asked to pay another $26,995 for a regional service.
The costs associated with Baystate providing support for a town is difficult to determine, Simonds said. It depends on a patient’s condition and insurance, he said.
For an intercept call, the town collects money from the insurance company and pays it to Baystate.
During a mutual aid call, the primary unit bills the insurer.