Guest Column (2/11/10)

Support town ambulance service

Feb. 11, 2010

By Rick McGuire

The town of Williston is always trying to find ways to be more efficient in the way it provides services to its residents. This is why Williston has been successful in providing quality services while maintaining one of the lowest municipal tax rates in Chittenden County. One proposed change will help the town achieve both greater efficiency and better service — the ambulance service proposal.

Currently, when a medical call comes in, both St. Michael’s Rescue and the Williston First Response Squad are dispatched. The Williston First Response Squad is currently staffed with a combination of full- and part-time personnel. They have two vehicles they use and often a fire truck is used in the response because of staffing needs. The squad typically has a response time of just over four minutes.

Once the squad members (typically two people) arrive at the scene, they obtain information about the patient’s condition and prepare the patient for transport to the hospital, if warranted. The transport vehicle is usually sent by St. Michael’s rescue, but when they are busy other agencies are called on to provide the service. Each transport vehicle is staffed by a minimum of two people. The transport vehicle typically arrives five to 10 minutes after the Williston First Response squad. Upon the arrival of the transport vehicle, both squads exchange patient information, load the patient into the transport vehicle then drive the patient to the hospital.

After the patient arrives at the hospital, the transport service prepares a bill that is sent to the patient’s insurance company or to the patient, if they are uninsured. Once the bill is paid, the money stays with the transporting service. The Williston First Response service does not receive any of that money for the services it provides. All transport agencies serving Williston bill for their services and have been doing so for more than five years.

So why is this current arrangement inefficient? First, there are two sets of vehicles sent with two sets of personnel. Second, the transport vehicle must travel a fair distance before it arrives in Williston, thus wasting fuel and time. Third, having two sets of staff handling the patient can create unnecessary confusion and stress for the patient and increases the risk that important information might be “dropped” in the patient transfer process.

Consolidating services into one agency and making the service delivery more efficient should have the following benefits:

1. Faster arrival time to hospital (10 to 15 minutes faster);

2. Better patient care because each patient will have the same staff handling initial intake (First Response) as doing the transport (ambulance);

3. Shorter overall travel distances should save fuel and money. Rarely would a patient located in Williston have to be transported by a service located outside of Williston.

4. The cost to Williston taxpayers should be less than or equal to the current cost of providing First Response Services.

In short, Williston now provides at least half of the service and receives no revenue from insurance companies while the transport agencies provide the other half and receive 100 percent of the revenue. The revenues that now support St. Michael’s Rescue would instead go to support a combined service, including both first response and transport.

This is not unchecked growth in the town’s budget, as some have characterized it. This is an effort to improve town services through efficiency.

Please don’t let whatever disagreement you might have concerning the decision process color your decision on the merits of the decision. The decision for improved, more efficient service warrants everyone’s support.


Rick McGuire is the town manager of Williston.