Make your voice
heard in Putney

Editor of the Reformer:

This Thursday, May 22, Putney will hold a Special Town Meeting: Will the town continue with Rescue, Inc. as its ambulance service, or contract with another provider? I hope that Putney residents will attend this meeting and make their voices heard -- again.

At Putney’s Town Meeting in March, voters debated the Selectboard’s proposal to change ambulance services. After years of contracting with Rescue, Inc., the Selectboard presented a budget with funding for Golden Cross Ambulance Service. Golden Cross, based in Claremont, N.H., which already contracts with Westminster and other area towns, had offered its services for about $22,000 less than Rescue’s bid.

After intense discussion, the Putney voters decided to add money to the budget in order to retain Rescue’s services, but after the meeting some voters circulated a petition to reconsider that vote. This Thursday’s meeting, at 6:30 p.m. in the Central School gym, will do just that. Voters who attend can re-vote the town’s budget, and a vote to subtract $22,000 will mean a change in ambulance services for the town.

At the March meeting, the Putney Selectboard invited representatives from both Rescue and Golden Cross to make presentations at Town Meeting. While the president of Golden Cross said that he had been able to keep costs level for 10 years, the Rescue representative explained that the organization’s costs had increased as it invested in training and in retaining its experienced staff.

To open discussion among the voters, I made a motion to add $22,000 to the town budget in order to retain Rescue as the town’s ambulance provider. While both the Putney fire chief and a Brattleboro firefighter who lives in Putney said that Rescue and Golden Cross offered essentially the same service, three physicians had a different opinion.

One after another -- Craig Goldberg, who works in the emergency room at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital; Burt Tepfer, a cardiologist; and Robert Nassau, a pediatrician -- rose to speak. All three recommended continuing the contract with Rescue. All three told the voters that Rescue’s trained, experienced ambulance teams provide consistently expert care -- and that in some cases that level of care can save lives. Dr. Tepfer said that if he or a member of his family ever needed an ambulance, he would want it to be Rescue’s.

The voters at Town Meeting listened, and voted to fund Rescue, Inc. If you’re a Putney voter, please plan to attend Thursday night’s meeting to decide whether to affirm or change that decision. No matter which way you vote, it’s one vote that could directly affect you and your family.

Maggie Cassidy,

Putney, May 16 More on Putney re-vote

Editor of the Reformer:

On Thursday, the town of Putney will be holding a special town meeting to call a re-vote of its budget.

At the heart of this re-vote is the question of whether or not the town should continue to partner with Rescue, Inc. for ambulance services. Although this issue was discussed and voted on at the original town meeting in March, recommending the Selectboard re-affirm Putney’s relationship with Rescue, Inc., there was recently a petition circulated in the town, which acquired 85 signatures asking for a reconsideration of the vote.

There appear to be two main factors cited by proponents of a split from Rescue, Inc. as reasons to contract with Golden Cross instead. The first is financial. Rescue, Inc. is charging each town it covers $58,000 per year and Golden Cross has said it will charge $22,000 less at $36,000 per year.

The second factor seems to have been management issues at Rescue. Before proceeding I would like to make it explicitly clear that I have no complaint against Golden Cross. I have no doubt that it is a professionally run organization efficiently providing ambulance service to towns in both New Hampshire and Vermont. I recently interviewed Drew Hazelton, Chief of Operations at Rescue, Inc. and asked him about these two factors. Drew noted it is important for the townspeople of Putney to realize that Rescue, Inc. has been serving the town since 1966. For 48 years Rescue has been building a tremendous depth of service. They now have 56 staff members, including paramedics who all have at least five to 10 years of experience on the force. They staff four ambulances every day.The EMTs and paramedics are very well trained. The unparalleled quality they offer is evident to any physician who has ever worked in the Emergency Department of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

Rescue, Inc. hosts community education, offers charitable care and a subscription service making ambulance transfer much more affordable for the elderly, for chronically ill persons, for the uninsured and underinsured. They are able to do this because they are a non-profit organization (Golden Cross is for-profit).

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for any newer ambulance service to compete with what Rescue has to offer.

What about the $22,000 in savings to the town of Putney? This amounts to a savings of $1.50 to $5 per year per household depending on property value. If Putney withdraws from the community alliance of 15 towns who now contract with Rescue, then not only will Rescue lose the $58,000 in contract fee, it also loses about $100,000 in reimbursements from calls to Putney. This means that next year the other 14 towns will have to share the $158,000 shortfall. This is an increase of more than $11,000 each to those towns. So Putney’s costs go down but everyone else’s goes up. Most of these other towns do not have a Golden Cross to consider contracting with. There are no other options for them.

Drew also explained the reorganization of management at Rescue, Inc. There used to be a chief financial officer who operated independently from the chief of operations. Those positions have now been consolidated under Drew’s position as chief so he is also responsible for finances. The financial oversight is provided by a finance committee of the board of directors made up of local area bankers. There is now an action plan in place to allow for organizational growth while restricting costs so that all towns may benefit from decreased costs within the next year or two. Rescue is well on its way with this plan having operated for the past 10 months in the black with a solvent, balanced budget.

I would like to call on the residents of Putney to think beyond just our town and realize that to keep Rescue, Inc. strong and allow them to keep providing a high level of service to all the towns in southeastern Vermont we must remain part of this community effort. What we do will effect everyone else. I believe it is our responsibility to our community to remain with Rescue, Inc. and show solidarity with our neighbors.

I would like to ask each household in Putney to please send at least one representative to the special town meeting this coming Thursday. Please show your support for keeping Putney part of this valuable community resource. It is really worth much more than the few dollars per year it costs each one of us.

Craig Goldberg,

Putney, May 20