BELLOWS FALLS — In an ironic twist since Golden Cross Ambulance took over service for Brattleboro from Rescue Inc., Rockingham and Bellows Falls are courting Rescue Inc. to bid against current provider Golden Cross.
Rockingham and Bellows Falls officials said they were unhappy with the level of service provided by Golden Cross, which they said has gotten worse since it took over Brattleboro coverage from Rescue Inc. earlier this year.
Village President Deborah Wright said that “too often” North Walpole (N.H.) ambulance had to come in to Bellows Falls to answer calls because Golden Cross was busy elsewhere.
Pickup told the Bellows Falls Village Trustees on Tuesday night he had sent out requests for proposals to both Golden Cross and Rescue Inc., and as a sweetener to Rescue Inc., had offered space — temporarily — at the Bellows Falls public safety building, the home to the police and fire departments.
That ruffled a few feathers on the Bellows Falls board, since the public safety building is owned and operated by Bellows Falls tax dollars — not Rockingham. The ambulance contract, however, is paid by Rockingham and approved by the Rockingham Select Board, not Bellows Falls.
Pickup said the village could bill the town in the event that Rescue Inc. does get the contract and moves into the building, and he said there was enough space to house the ambulance crew on an interim basis.
Rescue Inc. has been a regular sight at the Bellows Falls fire station this year, running COVID-19 vaccination clinics several times a month behind the station.
Rescue Inc. Chief Drew Hazelton couldn’t be reached Wednesday morning for comment.
Pickup said that the town’s annual contract for $72,000 with Golden Cross had expired and so far hadn’t been renegotiated, and that the ambulance service and the town were working on a “month to month” basis.
Golden Cross, which is based in Claremont, N.H., has a substation in Westminster, very close to The Big Red Barn antique center and Bellows Falls Union High School.
According to Wright, Golden Cross has three ambulances based at its Westminster station, and in addition to Rockingham, serves Westminster and several other towns in both Vermont and New Hampshire. Springfield operates its own municipal ambulance service with its fire department.
Golden Cross has had the contract with Rockingham for about 10 years, and the $72,000 contract has been level funded for years.
Wright estimated it should really cost about $100,000, and she said she didn’t understand why it was so low.
Complicating the ambulance picture, she said, is the increase in calls from area residents seeking emergency medical attention, but not rising to the level of needing transport to a hospital.
People fall out of bed or their chairs, for instance, she said, and need help getting back up and they call the ambulance to do that. The ambulance cannot charge for that service, she said, “unless they transport.”
With its aging population, Bellows Falls has more and more of those ‘non-transport’ calls for help, she said, but calls that can’t be billed for payment.
This story will be updated.