BRATTLEBORO — With the most populous town of those served by Rescue Inc. leaving, the organization’s leaders aren’t sure exactly what the overall impact will be but they’re committed to continuing with three-year contracts with the remaining towns, with 1 percent or less increases in each one.
“We are not completely certain how we are going to make up the loss in revenue but it’s also important to know exactly what that lost revenue is,” Drew Hazelton, chief of operations at Rescue, said Thursday at a special town consortium meeting at Rescue’s headquarters in Brattleboro.
Rescue serves 15 towns as one community and doesn’t have books for separate towns, Hazelton said.
Brattleboro will no longer be among the group starting in July, leaving a shortfall of about $240,000 in subsidies from the municipality and an unknown loss of income from patients. After a contract dispute, the town is looking to start a joint fire/EMS program at a paramedic level with initial help from Golden Cross Ambulance of Claremont, N.H.
Of the approximately 32,000 residents served by Rescue, about 12,000 are from Brattleboro. Each town’s fee is based on census numbers and a per-capita rate.
Hazelton described being “irritated” after getting a request this week from Brattleboro to provide mutual aid after the contract ends, which he views as subsidizing the town and something that should have been considered before making plans for the joint EMS/fire service.
At the Brattleboro Select Board meeting Tuesday, Board Chairman Ian Goodnow said the town would be willing to provide mutual aid to Rescue. On Thursday, he told the Reformer the Select Board was asked to communicate directly with the Board of Trustees about the mutual aid situation between the two parties.
“So we’re proceeding down that path of communication and I’m hopeful that it will be a fruitful one,” he said.
For the remaining towns, rates will go up as previously planned: 0 percent this year, then 1 percent next year and 1 percent the following year. Hazelton said Rescue can tap reserve funds if necessary.
Hazelton’s presentation emphasized the importance of his group’s services.
“It’s important to understand EMS is more than just a 911 call,” he said. “EMS is the true safety net in our community.”
Hazelton said Rescue provides hospital-to-hospital transport, 911 response, large incident response, event coverage, specialized rescue, disaster response, education and public heath services. In the last two years, he noted, the group delivered COVID-19 vaccines to people who couldn’t get out of their homes and to people around the state, and provided monoclonal antibody treatment to fight the virus.
“A lot goes into this — this is more complicated than putting a person in the back of the ambulance,” he said. “We truly engage with the patient to determine what is causing their need for an ambulance.”
Hazelton said nowadays, transporting patients “is health care. It is high level, ICU level health care, where assessment is done and treatment is provided when treatment is needed.”
Hazelton recounted saying for the last six years that Rescue’s “model works.”
“Our model has worked,” he said. “Our model will continue to work. We’ve provided 100 percent response to 911 calls in all 15 of our member towns.”
Will Moran, EMS chief at the Vermont Department of Health, couldn’t name another agency that hasn’t relied on mutual aid to make a call in the last six years.
Rescue has 78 team members in its EMS and response crews with stations in Brattleboro and Townshend, Hazelton said. He touted the paramedic experience of several employees.
“We know this community; we know what this community needs,” he said. “We are committed to providing the highest level of emergency services, the entire package, to our member towns. But things have changed, which is probably what brought most of you here. Our system is not going to be the same as it has been for the last 56 years.”
Hazelton cited challenges such as a national workforce shortage for EMS staff, underfunding for EMS through government-funded insurance programs, and Windham County having an older population with more poverty than other areas.
Stanley Noga of Brookline asked if there’s any consideration about approaching towns about setting aside federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to aid in keeping Rescue stable. Hazelton said he liked the idea but hadn’t given it thought before.
The Board of Trustees is asking him to look at all possible ways to bring in additional revenues to offset the loss of Brattleboro. That includes contracting with other communities.