At a public hearing in Thurman on EMS services, Warrensburg Emergency Medical Services Operations Manager Steve Emerson reads a statement to the Thurman Town Board, questioning the Thurman squad’s finances and viability. After about 150 minutes of public remarks that followed — most all in support of funding the Thurman squad, the town board approved a two-year contract with Warrensburg EMS.
Soon after a controversial decision was reached by the municipal leaders, an armed sheriff’s deputy escorted several thurman Town Board members from the town hall to their vehicles. The exit into the darkness followed several local residents jeering and muttering threats after a long-awaited vote was cast.
Minutes earlier on Monday April 8, the Thurman Town Board approved a two year, $80,000 emergency services contract with the Warrensburg ambulance corps, rather than the local squad.
Although all but a few members of the crowd expressed opposition to the pending contract, the board voted 3-2 to approve it, with several board members citing the ability of Warrensburg Emergency Medical Services to provide Advanced Life Support at a cost to taxpayers less than the local independent squad which offers only Basic Life Support.
The public hearing, two-and-a-half hours long, included residents shouting out accusations and pleas, with board members defending their pending decision.
Town Supervisor Evelyn Wood cited how the Thurman squad’s lack of consistent response, and recent shutdowns and reopenings had put their certification in jeopardy.
She displayed emails in which Dr. Douglas Girling, medical director for all EMS squads in Warren County, raised questions about his further official endorsement of the Thurman squad, which is necessary for them to respond to calls.
However, people in the audience described how over many years, Thurman residents had worked to form their squad, constructed their headquarters themselves, and responded to calls on a timely basis.
Board members said they recognized the local volunteers’ past work, but cited the ever-increasing standards for emergency care, and how Warrensburg could fulfill those needs at a lower cost than Thurman Emergency Medical Services. They also noted that regional and state emergency medical officials have said a squad needs to service 600 or more calls per year to be a viable agency, but Thurman had only 89 in 2012.
Warrensburg EMS Operations Manager Steve Emerson raised such concerns.
“The income from billing such a low call volume is grossly insufficient,” he said.
He continued that he’d examined Thurman EMS’ finances, and the squad would likely experience a shortfall of about $128,000 after another year’s operation. If Thurman EMS actually achieved full ALS certification, their annual budget might swell to as much as $400,000, he predicted.
Resident Susan Kline and many others expressed concern over allocating money for the Warrensburg-based agency, while bypassing the town’s local squad.
“If we are gutted as a community — if we lose our community identity — there’s nothing left,” she said.
Lorrie Smith, one of the early volunteers in the Thurman squad, said Basic Life Support services provided vital first response, and should be funded by the town.
“BLS service is very, very important,” she said. “I think it’s terrible what’s happening to this town.”
Thurman resident Sally Wallace suggested that the town should contract with Thurman EMS instead of Warrensburg EMS — and the local squad could transport patients part-way, with Warrensburg’s ALS-certified squad providing “intercept” service, or taking over care en route to the hospital.
Board member Gail Seaman responded that regional EMS officials were now calling ALS certified response rather to patients’ homes, rather than BLS-level service.
Emerson noted that Warrensburg EMS was now responding to two-thirds of the calls in Thurman.
Thurman resident Patrick Eldridge noted how his wife had suffered a heart tumor and life-threatening blood clots, and the Stony Creek EMS responded in 30 to 45 minutes, but the Warrensburg ALS crew arrived in a lengthy 30 to 45 minutes, he said.
“The driver didn’t even know the quicker way back to Warrensburg,” he said.
The board members were accused of not listening or responding to the public’s wishes.
Wood replied that she had heard from many other residents who weren’t attending the meetings because they were uncomfortable to voice their opinions, considering the prevailing controversy.
Resident Richard Bardi proposed a compromise, asking the town board to award a contract to the Thurman squad for two years while they reorganized and raised their standard of care. He predicted that the contract with Warrensburg could force the Thurman squad out of existence, and Warrensburg EMS, after becoming “a monopoly,” might escalate their rates.
“With no competition, the town would have no choice to accept whatever they offer,” Bardi said.
Board member Al Vasak responded that the town bankrolling the Thurman squad had its own risks, with the possibility of having to allocate more and more money, considering their financial stresses and uncertain future. Seaman added that the local squad would only be providing Basic Life Support, and ALS support would be an extra expense.
Resident Joyce Eddy questioned that she was paying plenty for fire service, was paying $187 more in taxes this year, plus $320 more per year for garbage collection after the town discontinued it last year to avoid a hefty tax increase.
“People here wouldn’t mind paying $50 or $100 more to keep our local squad going,” she said.
Resident Erin Beadnell offered her views.
“Thurman residents need to stick together; we need to keep our jobs here and keep our community whole,” she said. “You are ripping this community apart.”
Supervisor Wood said that contracting with Warrensburg EMS was a matter of getting the most expert reliable service at the lowest possible cost.
“It’s our obligation to make sure we spend tax dollars wisely — and get the highest level of care at the best possible price,” she said. “Warrensburg has been providing reliable, consistant care for our people.”
Vasak suggested that the public voluntarily contribute toward Thurman EMS rather than adding to the tax burden.
Barbara Farrell called for the town to put the EMS contract up to public. vote. Wood responded that doing so would be contrary to state law.
Resident Mike Eddy said that although Warrensburg EMS “does a super job,” sealing a deal with the agency would have its consequences.
“If the board signs a contract with Warrensburg EMS, every town board member might better pack their bags and go to Warrensburg, because they have no ‘Thurman heart.’”