Lanesborough ambulance facing tough choice: expand or disband
LANESBOROUGH — The town's ambulance service is at a precipice.
As work begins on a fiscal 2017 budget, officials have begun examining two possible scenarios: Bolster the service by hiring full-time staffers, or cut it entirely and work out a regional agreement for coverage through Pittsfield.
"At this point the revenue coming in so far this year haven't equaled the expenses," said Town Manager Paul Sieloff. "There's a good chance we're going to try to make some changes as part of the budget process."
Town officials are in the early stages of assessing which constitutes the better option, and may reach a conclusion by annual town meeting on June 14.
If they do, residents can expect to see a question on the ballot proposing one or the other, pending careful study.
The town funds its ambulance, run through the Fire Department, through an enterprise fund of ambulance revenues at a cost of roughly $60,000 per year.
Despite running at a shortfall for 2016, the fund remains solvent thanks to roughly $50,000 in previous years' revenue. But the sum is dwindling.
Several factors caused the enterprise fund shortfall.
First, the town only has 11 on-call emergency medical technicians, most of whom cannot respond to daytime emergencies because they have other jobs. No revenues can be collected on calls the town doesn't respond to.
EMTs earn just $20 per call and thus have little incentive to respond.
Second, many people have failed to pay outstanding bills after being transported by the town ambulance. These bills range in cost from $500 to $1,000.
"We still have $30,000 in unpaid debt," Lanesborough Fire Chief Charles Durfee said. "We're in the process of taking people to small claims court."
Durfee said what he'd like to do is hire two or more full-time town EMTs. The move would greatly increase the number of calls Lanesborough responds to, thereby bringing in more revenue, perhaps taking care of the funding problem.
"That's definitely the optimal situation, but it all comes down to the numbers," Durfee said. "I'm not convinced we can provide that in a cost-effective way. There's a lot of factors we still have to look at."
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.
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