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Whately weighs EMT options

WHATELY — The Board of Selectmen will have two options to consider for the future of its town ambulance service — a regional team with Sunderland and Deerfield versus a ramped-up town service.

Deputy Fire Chief Gary Stone handed a two-page proposal to the Board of Selectmen last week that would increase staffing needs for the town ambulance through on-call shifts and higher stipends.

Selectmen Jonathan Edwards and Paul Newlin — Joyce Palmer Fortune was not present — decided to have the Whately department implement its proposal to give them two options to consider.

But the selectmen are not scrapping the regional service idea yet until they have the developed proposal.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t go to a regional service,” Edwards said.

In January, the Whately team surprised town officials when they said they didn’t want the town to join its southern Franklin County neighbors in a shared EMT service.

Despite Whately’s hesitation, the oversight board, made up of the three town administrators — Bernie Kubiak, Lynn Sibley and Margaret Nartowicz — and the three EMS directors — Stone, Matt Russo, and Robert Ahearn — have continued to crunch numbers to come up with a specific proposal and budget for the townspeople to consider. Nartowicz previously indicated Sunderland and Deerfield would go forward with the plan if Whately opts out.

Needing more time to figure out the budget, the board pushed back the report’s deadline from April 1 to May 15.

The framework of a regional service is a 24-hour, seven-day regional ambulance service based out of the South Deerfield Fire Station. The service would minimally staff a first call-first response Class 1 paramedic ambulance. Simultaneous or second calls would be managed by on-call personnel in the reserve ambulance, which would either be the Whately or Sunderland ambulance.

To keep Whately’s department autonomous and improve its service, Stone suggested staffing EMTs during various shifts on week nights and weekends. Shift times would be based on call volume history. To cover daytime calls and day times without shift coverage, Stone proposed offering a $100 stipend per EMT/per transport to increase the incentive for a volunteer to leave his or her daytime job.

A quarterly incentive bonus of $25 per EMT would also be offered if a minimum of five calls are made.

The 2001 town ambulance could also be kept on for another year, Stone said. And the department could have a new power lift stretcher for $13,000, which would be covered by the annual Yankee Candle gift the town received.

To provide on-call shifts and higher stipends, it would cost the Whately ambulance budget an extra $20,000.

This year’s budget is $23,000. Stone suggested transferring the $36,000 annual ambulance revenue into the ambulance fund to cover the costs. Right now, the money goes into the town’s general fund.

The emergency department would have to wait until July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, to get any new money, Town Admininstrator Lynn Sibley said. Sibley said she’d work with the Finance Committee to determine the cost of implementing the proposal. If the town doesn’t provide the EMTs with the extra cash flow, Stone said his department would continue operating the way it does.

Stone believes the Whately ambulance is serving its 1,496 residents well.

According to Stone, there were 143 requests for medical help in Whately last year. Whately EMTs responded to 100 of those calls. For the other 43 calls, other town EMTs or regional services responded.

Part of the reasoning behind a regional service is to address the decreasing number of volunteers and improve the response time.

Stone, however, said he expects his 16-member department will recruit five new EMTs within six months. Stone said his department would aggressively recruit new EMTs to reach a goal of two per year.

He proposed requiring police officers or new hires to be EMT-certified as well to answer daytime calls. He said police already respond now as first responders to all emergency calls but can’t treat or transport patients.

“This could be half of a crew for a lot of calls,” Stone said. “This wouldn’t solve our problem, but it could help a great deal.”

While the average response time is 12 minutes, Stone said his department answers calls in 10 minutes.

The only problem is two EMTs are required to transport a patient.

The major sticking point among the Whately EMTs when it comes to a regional service is what they perceived to be the inevitable elimination of volunteer service.

Chairman of the Selectboard, Jonathan Edwards, assured the rescue workers that this wouldn’t be the case.

“What they’re trying to create is a system that marries the volunteer structure with a regional service,” Edwards said. “The goal is improving the number of calls we respond to and keeping our strong response time.”

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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