ATHOL-With the Thurman Emergency Squad now balking at fulfilling requirements of a 2011 service contract they signed with the town just a few months ago, local officials have urged the squad members to meet with their counterpart agency in Warrensburg and talk about consolidation or a partnership.
On Monday, April 4, the squad's new leadership told the board they couldn't live up to the agreement that stipulated no patient billing, an 80 percent response rate, and no paid employees. The squad leaders asked the board for paid staffing, the ability to institute "soft" billing for services, and for all of their year's $50,000 stipend in advance.
"I implore you, please give this new leadership a chance," newly elected squad president Jean Coulard said.
Officials of the Warrensburg Emergency Squad, which had competed with the Thurman Squad for the contract, were on hand. Although both offered praises for each other, Warrensburg Squad board president Bob Farrell characterized the Thurman group as lagging in equipment, expertise and readiness, charges that caused the Thurman officers to bristle.
Farrell noted that the Warrensburg agency offered full Advanced Life Support services, highly trained paid staffers, and responded to more than 1,000 calls per year. The Thurman squad responds to fewer than 200. Without the opportunity to answer calls on a daily basis, EMTs' expertise might get rusty, Farrell said.
"When they're not responding to calls often, it effects the proficiency at their jobs," he said, suggesting the Thurman squad merge with his agency. "Your members can join our squad now - we have the certification, the ambulances, the equipment, and the crews," he said.
Thurman Town Supervisor Evelyn Wood noted that the Thurman squad had responded to 59 percent of its calls since the contract was signed, and other area squads, including Warrensburg's, were responding for those Thurman missed.
The town has paid $12,500 to date to the local squad for services, and Coulard asked for all of the $50,000 so paid staffing could be launched.
Wood responded that such a move would put the town's money at risk.
"If we release the money up front and the squad folds, we'd be without funds to contract with another agency to provide services for the town," Wood said.
Board member Leon Galusha expressed support for the local agency.
"We need to help them - it's our only option" he said. "The townspeople have spoken."
But Farrell disagreed. He said Warrensburg Emergency Medical Services had a long history of providing exclusive coverage for the town, and they were not only well-equipped and knew the territory, they were already responding to calls.
"I'm concerned that if you encourage these people to go ahead and try this, we'll be picking up the mess in the interim," he said.
John O'Neill, an assistant captain with Thurman and a volunteer with several other squads, offered an alternative.
"If we get together with Warrensburg and work together as professionals, we can make it work and provide excellent coverage," he said, apparently suggesting a joint operating agreement.
Warrensburg squad officer Steve Emerson agreed, noting the expertise among the Thurman squad members.
The two agency's pledged to meet this week, and figure out a way forward.
Coulard said that Thurman Emergency Medical Services would meet again with the Thurman board April 12 after working out a solution with the Warrensburg Squad.
"We'll come to an agreement of some form," Coulard said.