The Tri-Town Ambulance sees staffing issues
Tri-Town Ambulance, the inter-municipal service that serves the three up-Island towns, has entered into an agreement with Oak Bluffs to cover short-term staffing deficits. The agreement provides an Oak Bluffs paramedic to answer calls in West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah during day shifts, when no Tri-Town paramedic is available.
The agreement illustrates cooperation in the public interest among Island towns. "It's a friendly offer from a neighboring community to help," Oak Bluffs ambulance service chief John Rose said. But the agreement also illustrates a larger issue of ambulance staffing difficulties in the more rural, more isolated up-Island communities.
"I can't put my finger on it," Aquinnah police chief Randhi Belain said. Chief Belain is the new chairman of the Tri-Town Ambulance Committee, and himself an EMT. "I don't think its because we don't have enough EMTs. I'm not sure there's a clear answer. We're going to have to look at the big picture as far as incentive pay. The whole system needs to be looked at. There's a lot of money we budget for. I think it needs a fresh look."
Tisbury and Oak Bluffs each have a separate ambulance service under the control of a full-time department head. In Edgartown the ambulance service is a department of the fire department under the control of the fire chief.
Tri-Town ambulance currently employs one full-time paramedic. Bob Bellinger, currently works four 10-hour day shifts during the week, from 7 am to 5 pm. Mr. Bellinger commutes from Falmouth, so the committee has slightly adjusted his schedule in recent months to accommodate ferry schedules. Island-based paramedic Andy Bluestein has recently agreed to cover several daytime shifts per month. Night shifts are covered by a paramedic shared with Tisbury.
The current staffing level leaves at least one day shift per week to be covered under the new agreement with the Oak Bluffs Ambulance Service.
At its July 22 meeting, several board members aired concerns about the new agreement with Oak Bluffs. Committee member Walter Delaney of Aquinnah was troubled about response times to his town. Under the agreement, Oak Bluffs paramedics on call for the Tri-Town Ambulance service would respond from Oak Bluffs. They would not be required to spend their shifts in one of the up-Island towns.
Also of concern was the possibility of higher pay rates for Oak Bluffs paramedics covering shifts up-Island. At the meeting, committee member Diane Powers of West Tisbury said she hoped the agreement with Oak Bluffs would spur an extra effort to achieve a full staffing level without having to rely on other towns.
Chief Belain is optimistic that staffing issues will improve with the graduation of a new class of paramedics, currently taking advanced instruction through an Island-based program. "At least two if not three of the students are on the Tri-Town Ambulance roster," Chief Belain said. "Once they get certified I think we'll see an increase."