At a joint meeting of Tisbury’s select board and finance committee, finance committee chair Nancy Gilfoy announced that ambulance director Tracey Jones is retiring. In conversation with Jones, Gilfoy told those at the meeting, “the dreaded regionalization word came up” as a way to address the challenges the EMS department faces.
“While the emergency medical services department is in transition, it might be a time to look at whether there’s a way to work with another town, whether it’s Oak Bluffs and Edgartown — to think about trying to combine, because according to Tracey, everyone’s having the same issue,” Gilfoy said. She outlined those issues as costs and shift coverage.
“And as Tracey said, there are towns in Massachusetts that have a larger square-mile area than we have, that have one ambulance service,” Gilfoy said. Individual ambulance services for individual towns Gilfoy described as a “habit” that nonetheless “serves our citizens.”
Over the years, Gilfoy said, providing ambulance service hasn’t been inexpensive for Tisbury. “Financially, their budget in the last, like, 15 years has gone up by 350 percent … it really requires people who are very well-trained and keep getting training,” she said.
Gilfoy went on to say it was a multiple-person-per-shift job that goes 24/7. She encouraged consideration of the idea of regionalization.
Committee member Mary Ellen Larsen said originally emergency services was a regional concept that would have been situated at the airport.
“Of course, being typical towns, everyone wanted their own,” Larsen said. “Up-Island was able to combine all three towns together for Tri-Town and have service. The other thing is, the state continues to raise the bar, and that’s what’s keeping things more expensive. You can’t just have an EMT, you need a paramedic on every shift …”
Larsen went on to say, “We have to really think about … meeting with the other two towns and see if we can come to some kind of agreement.”
Larsen said she understood mutual aid was already in place. “I don’t understand why we just can’t all work together,” she said. “Regionalization is not a popular word. It’s never been a popular word, and I don’t know what we’re going to do about that.”
Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz, who is president of the Dukes County Fire Chiefs Association, later told The Times that while regionalization may be a reasonable idea, towns are typically loath to give up their autonomy.
At a minimum, Larsen said at the meeting, Tisbury needed to sit down with the other towns. “The towns got together about the [high school] feasibility study and how they were going to pay for it; I don’t quite understand why we can’t go forward,” she said.
Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande said he believed there were “benefits” to partnering with other communities. Grande said Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Leland and Jones have held conversations on the subject, and those conversations remain “ongoing.” Grande also said he believed the town could find “creative ways to contain costs.”
Concerning Jones, Grande said, “We do expect to continue to see Tracey going forward in a different capacity.”
Jones later told The Times she will return after a long vacation and serve as a paramedic. She said her passion isn’t necessarily in administrative work, but rather providing emergency care.
“I love being a paramedic,” Jones said.
Jones said EMS had been struggling, and is already integrated in a type of regionalization, insofar as the same EMTs are used by all Vineyard EMS services.
Jones said she’s planning about two months in a warm place. “My white Christmas is going to be white sand,” she said.