Gill officials considering ambulance contract

Staff Writer
Published: 5/18/2022 3:52:49 PM

GILL — The Selectboard is considering its options for entering a contract with an ambulance service, prompted by a letter from the Franklin County Emergency Medical Services Committee.

Gill currently benefits from what the Selectboard has referred to as an informal “agreement” with American Medical Response (AMR), rather than a “contract,” while also using ambulance services in neighboring communities, with the most frequent being Northfield EMS. However, the EMS Committee — described by President Matt Wolkenbreit as an organization comprised of local first responder agencies that look “to find ways to care for patients in Franklin County” — views this model as contributing to a national issue where EMS agencies are stretched thin and are underfunded.

Wolkenbreit said informal agreements with ambulance services are simply rooted in longstanding commitments to caring for the public.

“Historically, Franklin County had agencies that grew and provided ambulance services under a handshake for the county,” he said. “I can say on the record, financially, those ambulance services didn’t succeed with that business model.”

He added that while ambulance services have served municipalities without contracts for so long because “everybody wants to respond to the call,” financial concerns are quickly becoming too grave to overcome.

“There are direct and indirect costs associated with the delivery of EMS services,” Wolkenbreit wrote in his letter to the Gill Selectboard. “Agencies must budget operational costs to keep ambulances and the EMTs or paramedics who staff them operational and available to respond. They are, however, only able to bill for the actual transportation of a patient.”

Wolkenbreit went on to explain that if an ambulance responds and a patient declines transportation, there is no reimbursement for the EMS service. Meanwhile, the towns that oversee the EMS services are left to pay any fees with taxpayer money or alternative models that vary by agency.

“Because of this … the burden where towns don’t have their own ambulance service and rely on another ambulance service falls on another community,” he explained.

Currently, Franklin County communities that have a non-contractual agreement with AMR include Leyden, Montague, Gill and Shelburne, according to Gill Fire Chief Gene Beaubien. The Franklin County EMS Committee is presenting these towns with two options that would help alleviate pressure on surrounding EMS agencies.

The first, which Wolkenbreit said was agreed upon by all Franklin County ambulance services, would institute a $350 fee per request for service charged directly to municipalities without contracts. The second option merely prompts towns without contracts to enter a contract with an ambulance service.

Gill officials expressed an inclination to opt into the latter option during last week’s Selectboard meeting.

“If I call 911 from my house, or someone does, and an ambulance arrives, I don’t care who it is. If whoever it is I call for refuses, why should the town be on the books for a $350 charge?” Selectboard member Randy Crochier said, adding that this could open up an opportunity for someone who is unhappy with town government to call an ambulance and charge Gill.

Selectboard members and Town Administrator Ray Purington said they would trust the recommendation of Gill’s Police and Fire departments as to which service they would contract with.

“Personally,” Beaubien said, “I’d like to stay with AMR.”

Crochier noted that this was sensible, acknowledging the burden currently shouldered by Northfield EMS.

“It’s going to come to a tipping point in Northfield if they pick up more towns,” he said after Beaubien pointed out that Northfield EMS already serves Northfield, Bernardston and Erving.

Gill officials discussed how the costs associated with entering a formal contract with AMR are unknown at this time. Beaubien said AMR representatives told him they would present specific terms within three to four weeks.

Wolkenbreit made it clear that future negotiations will be conducted with the towns’ interests in mind.

“We want this to be a community discussion,” he said. “That’s what we’re really hoping for.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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