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GEMS seeks 1% budget increase from town

February 13, 2019

GREENWICH — As it outlined its budget request to the town, Greenwich’s ambulance corps also spelled out the challenges it is facing from increasing costs.

Greenwich Emergency Medical Services, which is both publicly and privately funded, is seeking $4.7 million from the town in the 2019-20 budget, a 1.0 percent increase over the $4.653 million approved for the current fiscal year.

At a budget hearing, Executive Director Tracy Schietinger told the BET Budget Committee that GEMS has responded to nearly 5,100 calls in the 2018-19 fiscal year, which is set to end on June 30. That is “on par” for a typical year in which GEMS receives 6,000 to 6,500 calls, she said. That includes nearly 4,500 transports to the hospital every year; so far,the number is at about 3,200 in 2018-19.

GEMS’s contract with the town to provide ambulance services is up in June. However, it appeared likely to be renewed. Town Director of Health Caroline Calderone Baisley told the BET Budget Committee that the chair of the town’s Board of Health would discuss it with GEMS’ attorney and the town’s law department on Monday.

“There won’t be many changes,” Baisley said. “The town has been working with GEMS for a very long time under contractual agreement and the agreement is in very good shape.”

GEMS is an independent, nonprofit agency — not a town department like police and fire. GEMS receives town funding every year, and it also does private fundraising as well for new equipment and other capital needs, such as replacing an ambulance after one recently caught fire due to a malfunctioning space heater.

Replacing the vehicle costs $200,000, Schietinger said. And adding in all the equipment brings the price tag closer to $350,000. Jennifer Baldock, chair of GEMS’ Board of Directors, said the goal for private fundraising is about $500,000 a year. When she joined the board 15 years ago, the goal was about $300,000 a year.

“As you can see ambulances are extremely expensive and the cost of medical equipment has been rising dramatically over the years,” Baldock said. “We are working on ways to raise money.”

That investment allows GEMS to be the first to have “the latest and greatest equipment” on its ambulances, which makes a difference in life-saving response, she said.

At an accident where a vehicle slid on black ice, the driver needed to be intubated so her airway could be cleared, Baldock said. It happened on the first day GEMS that had a new piece of equipment called a GlideScope on the ambulance, which provided a video view as they cleared her throat without moving her neck and potentially causing paralysis.

“The outcomes are changed significantly by the expertise of the staff and the equipment we have,” Baldock said.

According to Michael Niekamp, GEMS’ director of finance and administration, there is an ongoing review of all of GEMS’ technology, including computer upgrades that will move them from server-based technology to cloud-based technology.

But the challenges facing GEMS also come from costs for everyday expenses, while reimbursements for services from insurance and from Medicare and Medicaid are going down. Reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid are set by the state, and Schietinger said GEMS has no control over it.

Schietinger said efforts are underway to increase revenues through work in the community.

“We are looking to assist in our operating revenue by doing some, what we call, corporate CPR training so we do get out there and we do this training to generate revenue to private businesses, doctors’ offices, dentists’ offices and to Joe Citizen,” she said. “Anyone who wants to learn CPR, we will absolutely teach them that.”

Additionally, GEMS has added babysitting classes to generate revenue. There has been an increase in EMT training and recertification classes and, for the first year, a class that trains police officers as emergency medical respondents, allowing them to be EMTs. Schietinger said this is a “bridge class” that allows them to do it without having to take full EMT classes.

She said it generated a lot of interest as a new service. A course will be held in March for surrounding towns.

Niekamp discussed how GEMS reduced its operating costs, including working with its bank to reduce credit card fees, leading to a $10,000 savings. He said more work in areas like that would be done as service contracts, particularly around technology, come up.

GEMS also receives grants, and Schietinger pointed to a $15,000 grant it received from Workers’ Compensation Trust, which is an insure program for health-care employees in the state. That grant will be used to add components to stretchers used to transport patients.

The annual fundraising gala for GEMS will be held on March 1 at the Belle Haven Club. GEMS also plans to host a kids’ triathlon at Greenwich High School on June 9.

“We don’t expect (the triathlon) to be a major fundraiser this year,” Baldock said. “We expect it to be more of a friendraiser and an event to raise community awareness. But I think over time we’ll get some of the hedge funds and other financial institutions interested in being sponsors.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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