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Mass. ambulance service is managing to survive

NORTH BROOKFIELD, Mass. After a financially troubled year, the North Brookfield Emergency Squad has a new home, a new ambulance billing service, and a stronger-than-ever commitment to provide residents here and in neighboring communities with round-the-clock paramedic-level emergency medical service.

Holly J. Wielsma, who took over as director of operations in February, said the private, nonprofit rescue squad has moved from its quarters at 84 South Main St., taking up residence in the town fire station on School Street.

"It was a move that just made sense," the squad's director said, citing the financial savings and the fact that frequently the town's rescue personnel and firefighters were called upon to work together under stressful conditions.

"This provided us an opportunity to get to know one another," she said, adding that Capt. Joseph Holway is a member of the rescue squad's board of directors.

James N. Caldwell, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Friday that the squad had severe revenue issues, and because of this the town was in danger of losing its ambulance service altogether.

"Rather than allow that to happen and force residents into a more expensive emergency medical service, the town agreed to provide them with space at the fire station," Mr. Caldwell said.

"This will allow them to get back on their feet financially, and it provides the town around-the-clock coverage at the fire station," he said.

Mr. Caldwell said the rescue squad's volume of emergency calls does not pay the bills.

"What pays the bills are the transfer calls from nursing homes to hospitals or from one hospital to another at the advanced life support level. They weren't getting the transfer calls, the revenue dropped off markedly, and their licensing was called into question," he said.

According to information on the Web site of the state Department of Public Health, the North Brookfield Emergency Squad's license expires June 30.

"The squad has been receiving six-month provisional licenses," Mr. Caldwell said, "because of their difficulty in maintaining staffing levels and equipment. I don't anticipate any problem whatsoever in the squad receiving another six-month license while it gets back on its feet."

Mr. Caldwell said the squad is back up to a full complement of emergency medical personnel and is operating two ambulances, one for emergency response and the other for transfers.

The selectman said the town is only providing a home for the squad, and there is no expense to the town's taxpayers with the current arrangement.

"This is the least we could do to ensure the emergency squad's survival," Mr. Caldwell said.

Ms. Wielsma said the squad moved from the South Main Street quarters to the fire station in May.

The squad's director said ambulance billing for the squad has been taken over by Coastal Medical Billing.

She said the squad has two full-time paramedics and a third is being hired. She said the rest of the shifts are filled by part-time paramedics.

Ms. Wielsma noted that in addition to ambulance receipts, the squad's operations are supported by annual subscriptions of $75 for families, $60 for individuals and $25 for senior citizens. "People should think of this as a co-pay," she said.

Those who use the ambulance will have their insurance company billed for the service. Non-subscribers are billed directly for any balance their insurance company doesn't pay. Subscribers are not billed for any costs not covered by their insurer, Ms. Wielsma said.

She said the squad is the primary responder for all emergency calls from North Brookfield and New Braintree.

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