|Lanesborough to Give Police Stipends For Helping Ambulance Service|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:51AM / Monday, July 03, 2017
|The Selectmen approved the new contract with the Police Union on Tuesday.|
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The town is now incentivizing the Police Department to help the struggling ambulance service.
The Board of Selectmen agreed on Tuesday to a new contract with the police union, which includes bonus pay to run an ambulance rig if needed. The department has about a half-dozen emergency medical technicians and one paramedic on staff and if officers need to fill in as ambulance drivers, they'll get paid extra — but only in life-threatening cases.
"If it is a life-threatening emergency, we will drive the ambulance," Police Chief Timothy Sorrell said. "It is a step in the right direction."
The town had hoped to use the officers in a greater capacity, but the union felt the staffing levels didn't allow for them to take on too large of a role. But, the union did agree to provide some service if needed. The EMTs could earn an additional 30 cents per hour, on top of their normal pay, and the paramedic another 40 cents per hour.
"The union was extremely hesitant in participating in transports for non-emergency situations," Town Manager Paul Sieloff said.
At times there is only a single officer on duty and there were concerns that if that officer needed to drive an ambulance, that would leave the town uncovered for the duration. The officer would have to wait to be cleared to be able to return to his or her cruiser.
But Selectman Henry "Hank" Sayers said that if the town is paying the officers a stipend, then they should provide the service if needed even if it is non-life-threatening.
"If we need a crew, we need a crew," Sayers said.
Sayers believes the ambulance service is getting into a "critical situation" and that Williamstown's Village Ambulance recently had to respond to a Lanesborough call because no one else was available.
Sieloff responded that "there is no magic bullet on this issue" and that any help is welcomed.
"Right now we are kind of throwing a bunch of things into the mix," he said.
The ambulance members had previously agreed to forego stipends
in an effort to help the service financially and the town agreed to train a seasonal worker in the Highway Department to provide additional coverage — but that employee has not yet finished the certification process.
Sayers had previously put forth an idea of contracting with County Ambulance to take over handling
the town's calls but the Selectmen received pushback from the Fire Department. The department said the service had hit a low point with an array of factors coming together at once.
The department was struggling to have EMTs available to handle calls
, specifically during the day, and more and more patients were not paying the bills. That was on top of numerous other licenses and bills being added to the enterprise's expenses.
The ambulance enterprise fund has not been bringing in enough money and it has about $50,000 when it needs some $225,000 in the next few years to buy a new ambulance. The Board of Selectmen is concerned that the town will have buy the ambulance, and that residents aren't getting adequate coverage.
The Fire Department put forth a plan to turn the response rate around and initially had success. Members were supposed to return to the Board of Selectmen in June for an update, but that didn't happened.
Sieloff feels the role is too vital to ignore. He wants an update from the Fire Department on the current status of the service.
"This is not a luxury and we don't want to get to a point where we have a tragedy," Sieloff said.
A bill in the state Legislature has been kicking around since 2011 that could help small-town ambulance services. The bill would alleviate the requirements for the number of EMTs required for each type of call
— that would allow those with lesser training to act as drivers while the paramedics or EMTs work on the patient in the back. That bill has found little support, with many saying it lessens the quality of care provided. It sits at the committee level now.
Selectman John Goerlach said having a driver and one EMT in the back provides better care than having the rig parked at the station because a second EMT wasn't available. Sieloff hopes the state can do more to help.
"I don't understand why the state sticks their head in the sand. This is an issue throughout the state," Sieloff said.