CALEX Heads to the Polls

calexST. JOHNSBURY - Since CALEX Ambulance Services opened their doors in 1984, their yearly appropriations have never been voted down on a Town Meeting Day. This is a pattern that C.E.O, Michael Wright, hopes will continue today.

Voters will decide whether they wish to have a contractual agreement with the ambulance service, approve an increased appropriation, or veto Calex's request all together. According to Wright, these financial increases are necessary to cover the cost of readiness. This includes fast response to emergency scenes, response to "no-transport" situations such as diabetic emergencies, and preparedness on slow days.

"We're doing approximately 600 no transports every year, but we always have to have crews available, so there are three crews that are always on based on our averages of call-volumes. So we have days where we don't transport at all, and then we have days like yesterday where we did about 12-15 calls. So on those slow days we still have to staff up, and that covers that expense."

Over the past 34 years, Wright says that CALEX has been one of the lowest per capita ambulance services across the state, and for the towns voting on appropriations, he says this affordability will remain because they will only be seeing a dollar increase from last year. "It's always a discussion when we put in for an increase, but it's a dollar. We're going up a dollar for next year. We were at $14.50 per capita, and now we're going up to $15.50. As we look across the state, and even nearby ambulance services, they're looking at per capitas in the $30's, $40's and even $60's in some places."

Wright projects the service to reach a $20 dollar per-capita by 2020. "We feel that based on getting to $20 dollars at 2020, that will be a good amount to bridge that budget so that we can replace these ambulances. An ambulance now is about $180,000 dollars and we have to replace that every five years, as well as additional equipment on the ambulance, and the staffing cost to keep the station staffed 24-7," he said.

In some towns such as St. Johnsbury, they are considering including a contract within next year's budget. In Wright's opinion, it would be a beneficial decision for both Calex and the towns, as residents would understand exactly what they're paying over a three-year period. "We feel that it's an essential service, no different than the fire department or the police department, it's part of the town. You need emergency medical services to help, and that's why we feel it should be apart of the general budget."

Wright went on to say that a common misconception among people who receive emergency medical assistance is that their medicare or medicaid will pay for the service completely, but in reality, that only covers a portion of the cost. "People think that if they have medicare or medicaid, that's paying the cost of the ambulance, but that only pays a portion of the true cost of us providing an ambulance," he said. "We have a lot of residents that don't have any insurance, so they're self pay and we try to provide a bill to the patient directly. But we have hundreds of thousands of dollars that we write-off every year of patients that can't provide payment for their services."

If voters decide to pass up CALEX's financial request all-together today, Wright says further discussions will have to be held between the residents and the ambulance service. Unfortunately, as an agreement is established, the towns wouldn't be able to receive the highest level of emergency attention, as a back-up plan isn't in place. "We'd have to have negotiations with the town to see what they want, because we'd have to change our staffing pattern or reduce services to those towns that aren't paying that appropriation."

Nevertheless, Wright concluded by stating that he's confident going into Town Meeting Day, so it seems that only time will tell. "We feel that we'll be very well supported by our communities moving forward."


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