Wilton Ambulance department over budget

  • The Wilton Ambulance will be significantly over budget this year, due to errors during the formation of the budget. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • The Wilton Ambulance will be significantly over budget this year, due to errors during the formation of the budget. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • The Wilton Ambulance will be significantly over budget this year, due to errors during the formation of the budget. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, October 29, 2018 5:14PM

The Wilton Ambulance is expected to be $100,000 over budget for this year.

The budget for the ambulance was approved at $409,453 in March. Year-to-date, the department has already exceeded that budget, Wilton Ambulance Chief Steve Desrosiers said in an interview Friday.

Currently, the department has spent $415,000, and anticipate exceeding $500,000 by the end of the fiscal year.

Desrosiers said the discrepancy comes from faults in the budget’s formulation. When he was hired, Desrosiers said, he only had a month to formulate the budget, and the formulas he used did not take into account recent significant raises in pay for staff.

Most of the overage is related to salary, Desrosiers said. The budget should have accommodated increases for EMTs from $10 per hour to $14, Advanced EMT from $12 to $18 per hour, and paramedics from $14 an hour to $22. It also increased the amount of pay for all personnel who are on call from $2 an hour to $10 an hour on the weekends.

“The baseline information was an error to begin with, so we were building our foundation on sand,” said Desrosiers.

There were additional unexpected expenditures, Desrosiers said, including a discovery of faulty wiring during a renovation of the station which needed $8,000 to fix.

Typically, the budget for the Wilton ambulance is split between the three towns it serves – Wilton, Lyndeborough and Temple. However, Desrosiers said, Temple and Lyndeborough will only be billed for the amount they approved at their Town Meetings. Wilton, which ultimately owns the ambulance, will carry the overage.

“This was an internal error on our part,” Desrosiers said. “While the other communities are part of the ambulance, we ultimately own it and are ultimately in control of the numbers we give to [Lyndeborough and Temple.]”

Moving forward, however, Desrosiers said the ambulance will not be moving backward from its current model. Desrosiers said he anticipates the 2019 budget will reflect the same level of staffing, and will be approximately $100,000 more than the budget approved in 2018.

The Wilton Ambulance has taken steps this year to increase its revenues, Desrosiers said, including entering talks with Greenfield about providing them with ambulance services.

Desrosiers spoke with the Greenfield Select Board last week about the possibility of replacing the Peterborough ambulance service.

While adding a fourth community to the ambulance agreement could involve increases to the budget because of staffing, Desrosiers said, the net result “would be significantly beneficial to the communities involved.”

The town has also engaged a new billing company as of April, and is being more aggressive in its collections in instances where a patient has received an insurance payment, but has not paid their ambulance bill. The department currently has about $55,000 in outstanding bills where the patient has already been reimbursed by their insurance company.

“We never want to make someone have to decide between paying their rent or getting groceries and paying the ambulance. But if you have the means, and just aren’t paying the bill, we will be pursuing that,” Desrosiers said.

Also, in a formal inter-municipal ambulance agreement signed by Wilton, Lyndeborough and Temple earlier this month, Wilton agreed limit budget increases to no more than 5 percent per year.

The increase in the budget has had a direct impact on the level of service at the ambulance, Desrosiers said.

Specifically, the increase in pay has allowed the ambulance to hire an additional 16 people on a per-diem basis. This has essentially solved a long-running problem filling the schedule, Desrosiers said.

“The biggest problem for a long time was that the schedule had more holes in it than a chain link fence,” Desrosiers said. “There were plenty of times we couldn’t have put out an ambulance, because we just didn’t have the staff available.”

When he began as the chief, Desrosiers said, it was routine for him to work 120 hours a week, to ensure there was a paramedic available when the ambulance was dispatched. Now, he said, he is generally working a regularly scheduled 48 hours a week.

“It’s just given us a much deeper pool to pull from,” he said.

It’s also allowed for reduced response times.

From January to October in 2018, 65 percent of calls that the ambulance responded to during night hours had an ambulance on scene within 10 minutes of the call. Only 5.5 percent of calls took more than 15 minutes.

“We’re getting to people faster. A few minutes may not seem like much, but it may make a huge difference for someone in cardiac distress,” Desrosiers said.

The station has also been recently renovated, using funds from last year’s budget saved while the department was without an ambulance chief. The new space, higher pay, and less grueling schedule conflicts have created a much more attractive atmosphere, Desrosiers said.

“The change in morale, in the cohesion and professionalism, is clearly evident,” he said.