Hospital may end agreements with local fire districts

A change in a decade-long WhidbeyHealth agreement with fire districts could reduce budgets and staffing for North and Central Whidbey fire departments.

However, a hospital official has said he is still open to hearing more options.

Earlier this week, WhidbeyHealth emergency medical services Director Roger Meyers and CEO Ron Telles informed Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue and North Whidbey Fire and Rescue said that they would prefer to let the inter-local agreements with the two agencies sunset on Dec. 31.

The two fire districts have partnered with the hospital district to staff basic life support (BLS) ambulances since 2008. North Whidbey provides the staffing for two BLS ambulances and receives approximately $403,000 from WhidbeyHealth for these services.

In an April interview, former North Whidbey Fire Chief Mark Kirko said the district spends about $760,000 a year to have four personnel available at all times for two ambulances.

If the previous contract expires, hospital officials agreed to pay districts 3.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation within the district boundaries to continue response to medical emergencies, according to Central Whidbey Fire Chief Ed Hartin.

The change would result in a $325,277 revenue loss for North Whidbey. This could mean the district would have no on-duty, paid personnel and need to rely completely on volunteers to respond, said fire commissioner Marv Koorn.

District leadership is in the process of determining the impact and he hopes there will be more “room for negotiations,” he said.

Central Whidbey Fire would take a $134,721 hit, which would be the loss of six part-time positions and the deputy chief position, Hartin said. He anticipates fewer people arriving in the first unit on calls and potentially slower response times if more personnel are responding from home.

“It will be very disruptive,” Hartin said.

He said the district will still respond to medical calls and will continue to look into how to “provide the highest level of service” possible while leaving within its means.

The districts were trying to renegotiate their contracts with the hospital for more than a year to address increasing costs associated with BLS services.

The letter from Telles and Meyers, sent Monday, stated the fire districts’ proposals “did not address all of the current challenges to our island EMS system.”

“It is also more apparent that the option to continue our collaboration on the operation of basic life support ambulances is not practical,” the letter states.

Hartin also said he thinks that service levels would drop as a whole because single-role EMTs “cannot provide the same range of services” as firefighter/EMTs.

Meyers said Whidbey Health is “in listening mode.”

“Us doing it is probably what’s best for the community,” he said.

“I think there’s more to come.”

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