BRATTLEBORO — The resolution that we passed at Representative Town Meeting this year directed the Selectboard to "set up a process to determine the future of emergency medical services in Brattleboro that is transparent and takes into account the opinions of town residents." The process should be fair and unbiased.
The genesis of this resolution was the town's abrupt announcement on April 11, 2022 of its intent to sever a five-decade relationship with Rescue Inc. This strategy was made in secret, with scant notice to town residents prior to a vote eight days later, and without affording us an opportunity to be heard.
An important decision like this, made in darkness, is a threat to our representative democracy. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.
According to the press release, the decision was based, in part, on the premise that the town could realize "a $500,000.00 to $700,000.00 net gain in revenue" if the Fire Department took over EMS. We now know that this premise, allegedly made after "a careful internal analysis," was patently false. Most folks believe that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The town inexplicably refused to communicate with Rescue. No effort was made to negotiate in good faith for a three-year contract with Rescue commencing on July 1, 2022. We have been waiting over 16 months for the town to explain its rationale for severing ties with Rescue. The town has never come clean about what happened and why.
All we hear are crickets.
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I have reviewed the town's EMS request for proposals dated July 27, and the Addendum #1 dated Aug. 22. The addendum was issued at the last minute, one week before the deadline for the submission of bids, after AmCare Medical Systems backed out of the process.
This gives the impression that Rescue is being targeted and disadvantaged in the process. Is a decision in favor of a fire-EMS system preordained?
The town has had a relationship with Rescue, Inc. since 1966, yet it is insisting, for the first time, that Rescue obtain a "performance bond" to insure the faithful discharge of its contractual obligations. Why? Does any other town with whom Rescue contracts for EMS require a performance bond?
Golden Cross, an entity which had no prior relationship with the town, was not required to obtain a "performance bond" when it began providing EMS beginning on July 1, 2022, or when its contract was renewed for another year in 2023.
I also question the rationale for the anticipated fourfold increase in dispatch service fees, from approximately $8 per call to $36.37 per call, with a 3% increase every year for the next four years.
Is this meant to increase Rescue's costs and handicap it in the bidding process?
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Would a fire-EMS system be under consideration at all if not for the existence of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, which are burning a hole in the town's pocket?
Would that money not be better spent on pre-existing needs, such as infrastructure, instead of trying to reinvent the EMS wheel?
If we had a police substation downtown, with cruisers parked on the street as a deterrent, our shopkeepers might not need to post signs in their windows which read, "No cash left on premises overnight."
Surely there are worthwhile uses for the ARPA funds other than wasting the money purchasing ambulances and equipment for the fire department that we do not need.
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Rescue Inc. provides services beyond EMS, not only to individual towns but to the entire state. The organization responded when the need arose during the COVID-19 pandemic - it administered vaccines and boosters. It also performed water rescues during our recent floods.
Rescue has 11 ambulances and 130 employees, and has been waiting 18 months for the delivery of two new ambulances. Why in God's name do we not want Rescue Inc. to be our EMS provider?
It is common knowledge that EMS systems around the state and the country are on life support, particularly in rural areas, due to workforce shortages, skyrocketing costs, supply chain disruptions, and insufficient insurance reimbursement.
Rescue Inc., on the other hand, is thriving.
In my view, it would be fiscally irresponsible, and a grave disservice to the citizens of our town, for the Selectboard to choose a municipal fire-EMS system. I am not alone in believing that Rescue Inc. is a paradigm regional EMS provider in New England. We ought to get the most bang for our buck.
Don't town officials realize how lucky we are to have them - ready, willing, and able to once again serve our community?
William E. Kraham is an attorney and counselor at law. This piece is adapted from a letter he has sent to the town of Brattleboro in support of reinstating Rescue Inc. as the town's EMS provider.
This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.