• Semi-private ambulance service proposed for Berlin
    By David Delcore
     | February 20,2013

    BERLIN — With three competing proposals in hand, Select Board members must now decide whose name will be on the side of the ambulances that transport patients in and around their community come July 1.

    It won’t be an easy decision because there is something to be said for all three proposals — two of which involve services that don’t yet exist and the third submitted by the town’s longtime ambulance provider.

    Just how loyal the Select Board is to Barre Town Emergency Medical Services will be put to the test as the board weighs alternatives that range from investing in their volunteer department’s expansion plans to accepting a no-cost offer that sounds too good to be true but might not be.

    Central Vermont Emergency Medical Services offered an incentive-laden proposal, underscoring the town’s status as home to a regional hospital.

    For the moment, CVEMS is just an acronym for a proposed paramedic-level ambulance service being pitched as part of a public-private partnership that — at least at first blush — is all upside for Berlin.

    Matt George, who briefly outlined the plan for board members Monday night, said Berlin would not be charged any per-capita fee under a proposed five-year contract that could be trimmed to three years if the board preferred.

    Additionally, George said, the town would receive 5 percent of the ambulance service’s annual profits and be given four seats on its governing board, which would also include a representative from Central Vermont Medical Center. As a bonus, he said all Berlin residents would be offered “free subscriptions” to the ambulance service — essentially guaranteeing they would not be billed for costs that weren’t covered by their insurance for the duration of the agreement.

    George, who is the clinical services coordinator for White River Valley Ambulance, would serve as executive director of CVEMS, though he said the proposed service would be run by Jim Baraw, who is director of emergency services in Northfield.

    The semi-private structure of CVEMS coupled with the fact that it would not rely — even temporarily — on a population-based per-capita fee as a source of operating revenue set that proposal apart from the other two — one submitted by BTEMS and the other by the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department.

    Both organizations were represented at a Monday night board meeting that produced no decisions. That day was the deadline to submit proposals.

    At the outset, Town Administrator Jeff Schulz recommended the board take the three decidedly different proposals under advisement so members would have an opportunity to dissect them.

    “It’s a fairly weighty, complicated issue,” he said.

    That may be an understatement given what Berlin’s business means to Barre Town’s stand-alone ambulance service and what it could mean to the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department’s plans to launch a fire and ambulance service that is staffed around the clock.

    Barre Town Manager Carl Rogers told board members that BTEMS is keenly interested in keeping Berlin, and its 1,800 calls for service a year, as a customer of its semi-regional ambulance service. However, he said, that would come at a cost to the town.

    The annual per-capita fee, which has been a feature of the local ambulance contract since BTEMS lured Berlin away from Montpelier in 1996, would start at $26 and increase 5 percent a year over the life of a proposed three-year agreement. The fee would increase to $27.30 per-capita next year and $28.67 in 2015.

    According to Rogers, the per-capita fee would increase 3 percent a year if Berlin exercises an option for two additional years. Under that scenario the fee, which is assessed on all but the Riverton section of Berlin, would climb to $29.52 in 2016 before topping out at $30.41 in 2017.

    If the Select Board decides to stick with BTEMS, it would pay $65,676 for the ambulance service under the first year of the agreement.

    BTEMS is already licensed by the state, fully staffed and has five ambulances that were all purchased in the past year. Two of those ambulances and their paramedic-led crews are assigned to handle Berlin’s sizable call volume. Much of that call volume can be traced to lucrative transfers involving the hospital and two nearby nursing homes.

    Meanwhile, members of the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department have renewed their request that the town award them a contract they say will enable them to staff the Four Corners station around the clock, providing swift response to all emergencies — both medical and fire.

    Though the service doesn’t yet exist, Chief Miles Silk Jr. said it will by July 1 if the fire department is awarded the contract. He said the department has been training its members and is ready to move swiftly on a plan to lease two ambulances for the five-year duration of the contract it has proposed.

    Silk and other department officials told the board there would be a per-capita fee to start, but the goal would be to gradually phase it out over the life of the contract.

    According to department officials, the per-capita fee would start at $28 if voters approve a ballot item asking for an additional $180,000 to establish continuous staffing at the Four Corners station. If that request is rejected, the per-capita fee would jump to $89.02 to provide a paramedic-level ambulance service to the entire town of Berlin.

    After listening to brief overviews of the three proposals, Chairman Brad Towne said the board had some reading to do. No decision will be made before the Town Meeting Day vote, but the board is expected to discuss the ambulance contract at its March 11 meeting.

    david.delcore @timesargus.com

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