Vernon's emergency services to be revamped
By Kym Soper
VERNON - The town's ambulance division is headed for restructuring even as a consultant's report recommending a blended system of private contractor and part-time town staff is expected to cause lively discussion tonight among members of the emergency services department.
"The Town of Vernon EMS System currently is not functioning with the best interests of the citizens due to chronic staffing issues, lack of a strategic plan, and policies that are outdated and not enforced equally," consultant Robert L. Holdsworth writes in his report, which was distributed to Town Council members on Tuesday.
Holdsworth, who says he expects "controversy" when he presents his report at tonight's closed-door meeting with emergency services members, told council members Tuesday that now "work is being done efficiently, even though workers are stretched to the limit."
His research shows that 83 percent of all calls for an ambulance are responded to in 8 to 10 minutes.
"That's phenomenal, but as sure as I'm standing here, that is going to drop," Holdsworth said.
In 2005 the current system of part-time crews responded to 3,100 calls with about 350 more sent out to mutual aid towns. Of the total amount, only 2,400 of the calls the town responded to were billable, Holdsworth said.
The 700 or so calls were for motor vehicle accidents with no injuries or a person who refused care. Also included are ambulances stationed at the scene of a fire in support of firefighters and victims who may or may not need services, Holdsworth said.
There are ways to capture more funds - about 2 or 3 percent more just from creating better billing documents, Holdsworth said. But rates are set by the state and there is no way to change those numbers, he added.
Staffing issues are paramount, Holdsworth said, as it is difficult to have a full crew working during weekday peak hours.
Holdsworth is presenting four options at tonight's meeting.
He is recommending a blended option of contracting with an outside vendor for one full-time dedicated crew, working around the clock and remaining on site with the truck awaiting calls. He would supplement that with other part-time town staff to fill in as available, on the second and third truck.
Holdsworth also urges disciplinary action for failure to cover a shift.
The recommendation is for a 6 to 9 month trial period as the department restructures personnel and reevaluates the system, Holdsworth writes in his report.
"The need to increase staffing during the weekday peak hours is clear," Holdsworth wrote. "The willingness and availability of your staff to be there is not."
Because pay scales are slightly below market value and they work part-time, staff often respond to other employment opportunities at the expense of Vernon EMS, Holdsworth wrote.
The other three options in Holdsworth report include keeping the system currently in place, but establishing penalty guidelines; going to a permanently paid professional department; or outsourcing completely to a private contractor.
The current system has a dedicated staff of 48 people and based on results of a survey among ambulance workers, staff are most in favor of six-hour shifts.
The survey also shows that staff are frustrated with the current system and feel undervalued and unappreciated.
"The bottom line is they're doing an awesome job with what they have, but the duct tape is being stretched," Holdsworth told council members Tuesday. "If you want a system that is able to keep up with peak demand, you're going to have to supplement."
Holdsworth does not recommend any of the other three options. He suggests trying the blended option for a trial period with the current roster and others hired on.
Should there be no positive results by the end of 2007, Holdsworth advises the town to contract out completely to a private firm.
Within two weeks he expects the town to chose a path, and implement it within 90 days.
"The survey shows that 84 percent of the staff don't think this would be taken seriously, and that's not the case," Republican council member Daniel E. Anderson told Holdsworth at Tuesday's presentation.
Tonight's meeting, which is for members of the ambulance service only, is being held at 7 p.m. at the town's Emergency Services Building on West Street.
©Journal Inquirer 2007