Monday January 28, 2013

HALIFAX -- The Whitingham Ambulance Service Inc. is looking for solutions to future staffing issues.

"We're having some challenges," said President of the WASI Christina Moore.

On Jan. 23, the Halifax Selectboard traveled to Whitingham to meet with the WASI. The board was told about some of the issues that the ambulance service had been facing in recent years, which included a decrease in staff and stricter requirements for operating an ambulance service.

The WASI has proposed a tax increase that would essentially pay for full-time staffing of the ambulance with licensed EMTs and accommodate members with housing nearby in Jacksonville so that they would be only three to five minutes away from the ambulances at all times. It had also been mentioned that the towns may ask for assistance from the state with funding to keep the service going.

"The state is giving Whitingham Ambulance three months probation because they haven't been able to get under the wire for getting to calls," said Selectboard Chairman Lewis Sumner. "It's taking them too long to respond, so it's taking them longer than it should to get to the hospital."

The state of Vermont issued WASI a conditional license for 90 days and has asked WASI to find methods to reverse the current trends or it will lose the license to operate an ambulance.

After 90 days, the state will re-evaluate WASI to see if improvements have been made.


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With the number of volunteers decreasing, forecasts for 2013 show even more drops in membership, which is worrisome for both Halifax and Whitingham residents, as the ambulances service both towns.

According to a WASI press release, "The impact of an aging population, limited employment and longer commutes is that people are less able to volunteer. The changes in population impact WASI in two ways. First, there are fewer people able to volunteer to work on the ambulance. Second, as the population ages, the demands on the ambulance increase."

In 1988, there had been 34 WASI members. In 1990, there were 21 members and in recent years, there's been less than 12.

Members have left the area and gone on to work in other places such as Bennington, Brattleboro and even so far as Oregon.

As of now, the average wait for a WASI ambulance is 22 minutes.

If the towns and WASI do not come up with a solution, residents of Halifax and Whitingham will have to wait for ambulances from the neighboring towns of Brattleboro, Wilmington and Colrain, Mass., which could take up to an hour.

WASI had requested that Rescue Inc. cover Halifax but had been denied. A request had been made to merge with the Deerfield Valley Rescue, but that had been denied as well.

New state laws have also made it difficult for WASI. It has created standards for response time as well as "operational readiness with personnel, equipment and communications for responses to emergency requests on a 24 hour a day, 365 days a year basis," according the press release from WASI.

The increased tax proposal would roughly cost each home $1 per day to keep WASI running. This is only an estimate to get the conversation going, Moore said.

"As much as I support this, I don't see it working," she said. "But I don't have another way of solving these problems."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.