Road Closure Impacts Emergency Services

calexST. JOHNSBURY - For approximately two more weeks, Interstate 91 Southbound will be closed between Exits 18 (Barnet) and 17 (Newbury), as the state completes a ledge stabilization project. For future safety on the roadway, the Vermont Agency of Transportation felt the construction was necessary. However, for the remainder of the project's duration, the detour creates an added risk for patients being treated by emergency responders.

Currently, the alternate route brings traffic off of Exit 18, onto Route 5 and 302, and then back onto I-91. According to C.E.O. of CALEX Ambulance services, Michael Wright, the detour adds an additional 20 to 30 minutes to their travel time.

Now for standard commuter traffic, the elongated route may be an annoyance, but for patients being transported to Dartmouth, the extra 20 minutes could be detrimental.

"We've had one transport that was very critical in nature so far since this detour. Fortunately the patient did get down there in time to get emergency surgery, but it does factor again. 20 to 30 minutes in certain cases if you're having a heart attack, or bleeding out from a traumatic cause, then that's extended time that could factor in to patient care," said Wright.

In a public meeting held in Newbury last month, Bruce Martin who is the project manager for the site, addressed these concerns. "Obviously we don't like shutting down the interstate for these reasons, but for the interest of the safety of the traveling public, it's what we have to do."

At that same meeting, Martin also talked about the possibility of opening the roadway for emergency transports once the construction began. According to Wright, the liabilities were too extreme. "We had some discussion about possibly passing through during the evening hours, but the state presented us with a waiver of liability, which was a lengthy document that put all liability onto our service. We felt that it was too much of a risk to sign on that, so we decided to continue through the detour," he said.

In the end, Wright stated that the situation is tough. The construction needs to happen for people to be safe in the future, but it also presents a danger to patients in the mean time. He just hopes to get through the next two weeks safely. "Dartmouth is our closest tertiary care center. So we don't really have much option other than the detour, and doing the best we can getting the patient there safely."