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Regional ambulance plan gets draft budget

Details services, costs to south county towns

DEERFIELD — After an 11-month wait, selectmen in Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland have a draft budget and agreement for a future South County ambulance service.

This week, Sunderland Town Administrator Margaret Nartowicz and Fire Chief Robert Ahearn released the proposal to the Sunderland selectmen. Deerfield is next in line with Town Administrator Bernie Kubiak expected to deliver the draft plan to the selectmen next week.

The shared emergency medical service system would provide paramedic level service 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

The service would cover 66.86 total square miles throughout the three towns. Based on call location and response time, the South Deerfield Fire District would be the base. The Sunderland Public Safety Complex would be a second choice. In either case, a fully staffed ambulance could respond to a scene within 15 minutes or less in 85 percent or more of dispatches.

The first-year price tag is $495,992 with $386,138 in anticipated revenue.

The proposed budget is based on 50 percent town property valuation and 50 percent population.

Deerfield’s expected first-year cost would be $256,732. Sunderland’s share would be $156,122 and Whately’s would be $83,138.

The proposal has been expected since June 2012 when a consultant, Bruce Baxter, laid out the basic plan for a regional ambulance. Over the next 11 months, the three town administrators and ambulance directors worked together to devise a budget and agreement.

The three towns teamed up to increase sagging response times and improve patient care.

Currently, all of the towns use call-force staff to respond to calls. None of the towns are able to staff 24/7 and rely on outside advanced life support coverage. And no town currently has a ready reserve ambulance on hand.

A regional service would reverse these setbacks, according to the proposal.

Under the regional service, about 90 percent of all responses will be covered with improved response times, according to the proposal.

Reliance on mutual aid will be reduced and first-call response will be guaranteed. Both a primary and ready-reserve ambulance will be available.

The five-page draft agreement sets several rules for the three towns.

The draft agreement is not final until the selectboards accept it and town attorneys review it.

South County Emergency Medical Services won’t be effective until at least the July 1 after the three member towns approve.

The Whately selectmen still have a choice to make between an improved town service and the regional service. Townspeople recently approved $32,165 for the ambulance budget to improve EMT response. The selectmen, however, have been waiting until they received a draft regional plan to pick the best option for the town. Deerfield and Sunderland town leaders indicated they can move forward without Whately if it decides not to join.

Management of the regional service will be by a Board of Oversight. Each town’s selectboard would appoint two individuals to serve on the board along with the ambulance director who would be a non-voting member. The ambulance director will submit quarterly reports to the board, which in turn would submit reports to the selectboards.

The ambulance director would be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the South County Emergency Medical Services. At a minimum, the director would be a certified EMT and serve in both an administrative role and clinical roll, responding to calls when available.

During the transition period, each town will keep its current ambulance director, who will serve on the board. Once the regional system is up and running, the towns can choose to eliminate the position.

Existing qualified EMT staff within each town would be given priority during the hiring process.

Also at the start of the regional plan, each town would give a list of all current ambulance equipment except for the staff’s individual jump kits. The Board of Oversight would review the list and decide which items to use in the regional group. The equipment left behind will be used by first responders in respective towns.

Similar to the Frontier Regional School agreement, the annual operating and maintenance budget of the regional service, prepared by the ambulance director, will require the approval of the townspeople at the three annual town meetings. If the budget is not supported by all of the towns, the budget will be brought back to the Board of Oversight to reconsider and submit a new budget.

Capital improvement projects specifically related to the regional service’s portion of the fire building will be apportioned to the towns based on the same formula for the operational budget.

Capital projects related to the building will be left to the South Deerfield Fire District, which owns the building.

The proposal allows for other towns outside southern Franklin County to opt into the system.

Any town wishing to join the service would have to submit a request to the board of oversight, which would submit a recommendation to the three selectboards. A case-by-case opt-in cost would be negotiated.

A member town could also quit the service at any time for any reason. The town would have to send written notice to the Board of Oversight and selectboards and signed by a majority of the quitting town’s selectboard. To rejoin, the town would have to wait two years again.

Once the selectboards sign off on the proposal, the townspeople will be asked to vote on the plan at a special town meeting.

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

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