By Bob Dorer
On September 11 Fire Chief David Grunes briefed the Finance Committee on the Bedford Fire Department’s developing plan to implement a “Paramedic” or Advanced Life Support (ALS) service within the Fire Department beginning FY2016. One goal of Grunes and Finance Director Victor Garofalo is to ensure the plans did not result in added costs that could impact the town’s tax rate. Grunes described how the town determines when to dispatch ALS service along with the ambulance once a 911 call is received. Currently when ALS service is deemed needed for life safety; a call is made to a service, such as Armstrong Ambulance Services, to provide the ALS support. Until this past year the ALS response time was adequate, but due to ALS facility closures by Armstrong Services, response times have lengthened to unacceptable levels. Often Bedford has transported patients in need of ALS services directly to the hospital rather than wait for the ALS to arrive at the call location. By staffing the ALS function within the town’s fire department, response times will be dramatically reduced.
Grunes and Garofalo laid out the plans for increased staffing to deliver the service (4 new paramedic fire fighters) as well as additional staff training to meet all the ALS requirements, within the of the town’s Ambulance Enterprise Fund. They anticipate that the direct cost to the town will not increase but will in fact decrease and could potentially end up becoming a net income generator for the town. Grunes, Garofalo and the Committee had an extensive discussion on rate setting for the service as well as potential impacts to the viability of the service if health care reimbursements change in the future. Garofalo noted that the current rates, as well as proposed increases to the rates, are in range of surrounding towns and below the proposed rate ceilings the Commonwealth is considered.
Although Garofalo is recommending proposing these changes at the upcoming special town meeting, no vote was taken that night on the subject by the Finance Committee. At least one committee member expressed that a concern of this magnitude should be on the warrant of the annual town meeting where the full budget is presented rather than at a special town meeting.