ATHOL-The beleaguered Thurman ambulance squad was given another chance at survival Tuesday, April 12 as local town government leaders vowed to relax some requirements contained in an operating contract between the town and the agency.
The Thurman Town board decided to allow Thurman Emergency Medical Services to bill patients for services and to hire paid staffing - prohibited in the contract they signed just a few months ago with the independent, struggling agency.
"Let's give them a life preserver," Town Board member Leon Galusha said. "Let's give them the right to bill so they have a better chance to survive."
The ambulance squad officers reported they had met with the executives of Warrensburg Emergency Medical Services, and had discussed ways of collaborating to provide EMS coverage.
Although a merger or consolidation had been suggested as an option, new Thurman EMS President Jean Coulard said her squad sought to survive on its own.
"A legal merger is out of the question," she said to the board.
Town Supervisor Evelyn Wood reported that the Thurman squad's call response rate, required to be 80 percent or higher in the contract, had fallen to 25 percent this month from its earlier 59 percent rate.
Warrensburg squad board president Robert Farrell said his agency would be coordinating its staffing with the Thurman squad so coverage could be maximized - but he asked for $15,000 to offset expenses in answering calls for the remainder of 2011. That request was bypassed by the town board.
Farrell said he doubted the long-term viability of the Thurman squad, saying its service area didn't have sufficient population to support paid staffing, nor provide enough volunteers for the agency.
The board decided to release the Thurman squad's second-quarter payment of $12,500 payment, but said the remainder of the $50,000 wouldn't be paid in advance as requested by squad so they could keep afloat.
Board members have said that the money would be needed to contract with other EMS agencies, if the Thurman squad dissolves.
Although hiring paid staffing to cover the town's needs might cost $40,000 - far exceeding the Thurman squad's budget -Coulard predicted that a fundraising campaign might provide the needed funds.
Farrell said he doubted sufficient funds could be raised, but he pledged his agency's cooperation in serving the medical needs of the town's citizens.