Brattleboro amends EMS takeover plan 10 days before scheduled start

Vermont ambulance officials continue to voice questions as the town approaches the July 1 end of its nearly 60-year contract with Rescue Inc.

BRATTLEBORO — As Vermont ambulance officials continue to voice questions, the town Selectboard voted Tuesday to amend its transition plan to take over local emergency medical services upon the July 1 end of its nearly 60-year contract with Windham County's largest EMS provider.

The board decided this spring with little notice or public debate to drop its association with the private nonprofit Rescue Inc. for the lower-priced for-profit Golden Cross Ambulance of Claremont, N.H., which has agreed to help the local fire department assume EMS duties.

While Rescue proposed staffing up to six ambulances out of its Brattleboro headquarters for $285,600 this coming fiscal year, Golden Cross said it could cover the town with two vehicles for $75,000. But that changed Tuesday night when the Selectboard approved a third Golden Cross ambulance for a free three-month trial.

“After the 90-day period the town can choose to return to the original level of service,” interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland wrote the board in a memo, “or if these additional assets prove useful, we can increase the level of service to include these new assets for an additional annual cost of $50,000.”

The addendum, which also will expand staffing to the equivalent of two 24-hour positions, comes as many local residents and state EMS officials continue to express concerns about the speed and order of the decision-making process.

“The way it's gone about, I have no idea,” Jim Finger, chief executive officer of the Vermont Ambulance Association, told VTDigger of the Brattleboro situation. “I just think, 'What the heck's going on?”

Finger, head of not only the statewide EMS organization but also Rutland County's nonprofit Regional Ambulance Service, said he has never encountered such a hastily executed plan in his nearly four decades on the job.

“Medicare and Medicaid don't pay enough, fuel is going up, payroll for employees is going up, everybody's strapped for finding certified people - it's not an easy business,” Finger said. “Anybody that does this should plan out way ahead for all the contingencies and make sure it makes financial sense.”

But Brattleboro, starting its program this summer, won't have the results of a recently commissioned $38,721 feasibility study until fall at the earliest.

The Vermont Health Department's Office of Emergency Medical Services, which has scrutinized Golden Cross' application for several weeks, granted a license to the plan Tuesday.

State EMS Chief Will Moran told VTDigger that “our legal team gave me the green light” just before the start of that evening's Selectboard meeting.

The state's review encompassed not only the provider's proposal but also its plans for sufficient backup in case its ambulances are busy, Moran said.

Brattleboro Fire Chief Leonard Howard told the Selectboard this past week that the town “will not require a backup service” but may need to call mutual aid “during large-scale events and times of extreme call volume,” including multi-alarm fires and mass casualty events and public gatherings.

In that scenario, Brattleboro would turn first to Keene, N.H., and Greenfield, Mass. - each a half hour away - before reaching out to smaller outlying communities in Vermont and the two neighboring states, the fire chief said.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates