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Rescue Inc. Operations Chief Drew Hazelton stands inside the organization’s new West Townshend satellite station. Behind him is a recently acquired ambulance formerly run by Brattleboro-based Ker Ambulance, which has gone out of business.

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Rescue expands in West River Valley

Health-care changes — including higher call volumes, increased complexity of treatment during transport — drive new facility in Townshend

BRATTLEBORO—To the casual observer, it might not immediately be clear why Rescue Inc. has built a nearly $800,000 station — with room for three full-time ambulance crews — along a sparsely populated stretch of Route 30.

But Operations Chief Drew Hazelton says Rescue’s new satellite facility in West Townshend is the direct result of major changes in the way ambulances transport and treat an increasing number of patients.

When Brattleboro-based Rescue Inc. first came to Townshend a dozen years ago, “this was a completely volunteer service at the time, with a relatively low call volume,” Hazelton said.

Now, the Townshend station sees more than 1,000 calls annually.

“What has changed,” Hazelton said, “is health care delivery in general.”

Rescue Inc. serves 15 towns. Until recently, crews covering the northwestern portion of that area had been based at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend.

While Rescue and Grace Cottage had a good working relationship, “we were at a point where we had a need,” Hazelton said. “In order to meet the community’s need for ambulance service, we didn’t have enough space.”

As a leader of the Vermont Ambulance Association, Hazelton is well aware of the financial difficulties such services face: He regularly lobbies state legislators on economic and regulatory issues.

But he said Rescue Inc. administrators didn’t hesitate to embark on a significant expansion project in Townshend.

“I’ve never seen building prices go down over time,” Hazelton said. “And certainly, regulations don’t seem to get easier over time, either.”

A stumbling block: Act 250

The state’s Act 250 land-use regulations didn’t make the project easy. Hazelton said Rescue sometimes received contradictory information from state agencies, and the nonprofit had to re-engineer and expand portions of its plans.

Echoing complaints heard from other developers in Vermont, Hazelton said Act 250 “was a struggle, and a very frustrating experience. We did the best we could to get through the permitting process without spending lot of money.”

The end result, however, is a roughly 4,500-square-foot building that “makes us more a part of the community,” Hazelton said.

The final price tag is approaching $800,000, substantially more than the $500,000 initially estimated in planning documents. “We’re still fundraising, and we will continue to fund-raise for quite some time,” Hazelton said.

He also noted, though, that Rescue was the beneficiary of many donated services. The project’s cost “would have been significantly more if it wasn’t for the contributions of the contractors,” Hazelton said.

Rescue Inc. is planning a public open house to show off the building from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 10. Visitors to the station at 6911 VT Route 30 will see more room for storage, equipment, and vehicles, including space to clean and decontaminate ambulances.

Also, there’s space for crews to live on-site, and “we’ve increased the number of people that are on duty during the day in this area,” Hazelton said.

Rescue Inc. had been running two ambulances from the Grace Cottage location. There will now be three in Townshend, with room for four when needed.

Adding ambulances isn’t cheap. But Rescue Inc. recently was the beneficiary of another local service — Ker Ambulance — going out of business.

That service, which dated to 1929, had been operating out of Ker-Westerlund Funeral Home in Brattleboro.

For several years, Ker Ambulance has focused on patient transfers rather than emergency calls. But administrators decided to get out of the ambulance business altogether this spring.

“As a business, funeral services and serving families are our primary focus, so shifting away from Ker Ambulance aligns with that vision,” said a spokesman for Dignity Memorial, the Texas-based company that owns Ker-Westerlund Funeral Home.

’The timing was good’

Rescue Inc. now has two ambulances that had been operated by Ker. Hazelton noted that “the timing was good, in that we were actually in the market to buy additional ambulances.”

All of Rescue’s expansions — the new station, extra ambulances and additional staff — are a response to the increasingly busy and complex business of emergency medical transport.

For one thing, Hazelton said the level of care required on an ambulance has changed dramatically. First responders are better-trained, and Rescue’s ambulances now carry equipment such as portable intravenous therapy pumps “because many of our patients are on multiple medications at once,” Hazelton said.

He also noted that Rescue is in the process of upgrading stretchers and related equipment to meet new federal crash-testing standards — a process that will cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“We’ve had to, over the last four or five years, make really significant investments in not only equipment but staff and education,” Hazelton said.

At the same time, call volumes have increased. That’s due in part to ambulances shuttling more patients between medical facilities, but Hazelton also said the number of “traditional” 911 calls — transporting patients from their homes to a hospital — also is on the rise.

“We see a lot of mental health, a lot of substance abuse patients. Those numbers have significantly increased,” he said.

The new Townshend station is designed with all of those factors in mind. Rescue Inc. last year marked its 50th anniversary, and Hazelton said the organization is looking to invest in its future.

“This has allowed us to provide better service to the community,” he said. “It’s made for better response times, it’s made for more capabilities, it’s made for more depth.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #411 (Wednesday, June 7, 2017).

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