Southern Franklin County towns begin voting Tuesday on regional ambulance service
DEERFIELD — In coming weeks, residents of southern Franklin County will be asked to leave behind their independent town ambulance departments and forge a new partnership with their neighbors.
Whately residents will be the first to vote to fund the proposed South County Emergency Medical Service on Tuesday. Sunderland will follow on Oct. 18 and Deerfield will decide on Oct. 28.
If approved, the service could begin January 2014.
So what are the voters being asked to buy?
The Select Boards in Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland and the EMS directors have created a plan for a shared 24/7 paramedic-level service to provide an enhanced level of care, faster response times, a primary and an on-call ready reserve ambulance.
The service would cover 66.86 square miles in the three towns.
The primary ambulance would be based in the South Deerfield fire station for up to three years while a permanent home is sought. The backup ambulance would be in the Sunderland Public Safety Complex.
From each location, an ambulance could be on scene within 15 minutes or less in 85 percent or more of all EMS responses dispatched, the town leaders said.
For each shift, one paramedic and one basic or intermediate EMT would be scheduled.
The ready reserve ambulance would be staffed by on-call personnel who would respond and stand ready at the Sunderland station when the first ambulance is called into service.
Under the tri-town partnership, a full-time director would report to a Board of Oversight composed of two voting members from each town. One would be appointed by the Select Board and the other would be the current EMS director or appointee.
As the fiscal agent, Deerfield would appoint a nonvoting member to the board.
The board’s first job would be to select the equipment the service will use from a list compiled by the current EMS directors.
Changes from volunteers
How would the regional service be different from the current services?
The three local services now are volunteer on-call based systems. There is no dedicated 24/7 staffing, inconsistent response times and no dedicated paramedic service.
Often, the towns rely on Baystate Health Ambulance and the Northampton Fire Department to provide backup paramedic coverage.
Deerfield and Whately are licensed at the intermediate level. Sunderland is licensed at the basic level.
With a paramedic license, EMTs could provide advanced intervention techniques such as hooking patients up to a monitor to assess what’s wrong and deciding which hospital to deliver them to for treatment. Paramedics can also provide intravenous therapy and pharmaceuticals.
Basic EMTs, on the other hand, can only monitor vitals.
What’s wrong with local EMS?
There has been a critical lack of manpower in all towns, Deerfield EMS Director Matt Russo said.
On-call EMT availability has eroded despite recruitment efforts. Demanding training requirements deter interest in on-call service.
Russo said 20 to 80 percent of calls during non-staffed periods require more than one request for the local ambulance or aid from an outside ambulance. Twenty percent of all EMS requests are transported by mutual aid ambulance and too many patients may wait 30 minutes or longer for help.
If approved, the regional service would likely start in January — halfway through the current fiscal year.
For the first six months, it would cost $493,591. Deerfield’s portion of $255,488 makes up 51.76 percent of the cost, Sunderland would pay 31.48 percent ($155,366) and Whately 16.76 percent ($82,735).
The projected full-year budget for July 2014 to June 2015 would be $749,595. The town assessments would be $387,990 for Deerfield, $235,972 for Sunderland and $125,632 for Whately. The budget includes $110,700 for capital costs.
By contrast, the current EMS budgets are $172,081 for Deerfield, $156,889 for Sunderland and $56,143 for Whately.
The budget is calculated according to a formula based on population and wealth of a community.
Town leaders said the regional service would save $53,000 in intercept costs by reducing the reliance on other services.
In Deerfield, the regional service would add 33 cents per $1,000 of valuation to the tax rate. The cost for a home valued at $275,000 would be $90.75.
In Sunderland, the service would add 21 cents to the tax rate. The approximate annual impact for a home valued at $275,000 is $57.75
In Whately, the service would add 22 cents. The cost for a home valued at $275,000 would be $60.50.
The towns would not be locked in to the regional service.
The Select Boards added an opt-out clause to the inter-municipal agreement.
A town would have to wait until the following July after the date it gave written notice to the other member towns to withdraw.
A town would have to wait two years after withdrawing to sign back up. Also, the Select Boards are considering adding a stipulation that would allow one town to get back its equipment if it opts out during the first year or if the regional agreement dissolves.