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Discussions planned on ambulance service

Posted by Tom Coakley  August 18, 2009 12:00 AM

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Town officials will meet with the Natick Fire Department within the next two weeks to discuss the privatization of Natick’s ambulance service as a way to save the town money.

It’s a step the firefighters say they are opposed to, but town officials insist merits investigation.

“Every time there's someone new on the Board of Selectmen, we fight this battle,” said Fire Department union head Daniel Hartwell. “It's getting to the point where it's totally ridiculous… Why would you change things that aren't broken?”

But according to a preliminary report compiled by assistant Town Administrator Michael Walters Young, privatizing the department’s advanced life support service—meaning services that involve intravenous and medication administration—could save the town money.
The town approved an override in 2000 for $427,000 to hire firefighters trained in advanced life support services. Almost all firefighters can provide basic life support services from any of the town's fire vehicles.

According to Walters Young’s estimates, the expenses needed to run the ambulance service exceed the revenue that’s pulled in. While the difference was an estimated $50,000 in fiscal year 2009, that figure could jump to almost $400,000 by fiscal year 2015, he found.

Hartwell disputes Walters Young’s figures, and said the Fire Department will present more accurate numbers that show the department actually makes money off the operation.

“We're going to disprove all the facts that the town has,” said Hartwell.

Fire Chief James Sheridan said he is also opposed to privatizing. “We’ve invested a lot of time and energy into perfecting our system,” he said. “We’ve been providing the service since 1924 and it cannot be duplicated by a private entity.”

Said Hartwell, “We get thank you letters and letters of praise on a daily basis on what a great service we do”

Walters Young said he is committed to talking with the Fire Department and incorporating all of their data and ideas into the study. He said he realizes the subject can be emotionally wrought, but that it’s his job to collect all the objective data for decision-makers to vote on.

“My job as a public administrator is to make sure that policy makers have the best information available to make informed decisions,” he said. “That, in a nutshell, is what this study does.”

Besides detailing the financial info, the study looks at the history of the department’s ambulance service and compares Natick’s service to those of nearby towns. Both Wellesley and Framingham use the private national ambulance company American Medical Response for their ambulance service, while Ashland, Needham, and Hopkinton have kept theirs town-run.

Walters Young said he expects the study will be done in September. The issue is on the agenda for the Sept. 21 Board of Selectmen meeting.

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2 comments so far...
  1. The Town Officials should be so lucky as to have such a committment from the Fire Department and leadership in their Chief to be able to maintain a town operated EMS System.... Since 1924! Kudos to Chief Sheridan and his crew!

    Posted by Totally Against August 19, 09 09:21 AM
  1. Privatizing is the only logical answer to the financial problems facing the town
    of Natick. With the town facing the cost of a new high school and a new
    senior center plus court ordered overtime for it's police dept. that could
    possiibly effect the fire dept. in the future - lets be realistic.
    When the Chief of the fire dept. mentions we had town ambulance
    service since 1924, apparently he does not know that the town used
    Mitchell Ambulance and Chalk Ambulance service from the 30's thru the
    60's.

    Posted by John August 25, 09 09:43 AM