EMSfunding change sought

Published on Thu, Apr 15, 2004
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EMS funding change sought

by Jack Kintner

County population growth has pinched Bellingham’s ability to provide Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to most of the county to the point that they are no longer willing to provide them under current agreements.

“We lose money on each call,” said Bellingham’s mayor Mark Asmundson at a press conference last week, called by officials to announce a new plan for funding EMS services in the future.
For example, in just the last eight years, costs to provide the service have gone from $3 million to almost twice that, $5.5 million. The number of calls has jumped from 7,445 in 1996 to more than 11,000 projected for 2004.

Last fall’s ballot proposition asked county voters to approve a property tax levy that would provide this support and purchase new equipment. Almost 60 percent voted no.

Last week representatives from Bellingham and Whatcom County, supported by all county fire chiefs, made their response, proposing a new seven-member board that would oversee operation of the county-wide system and also find ways to support it. Bellingham and Whatcom County would agree to each provide $1.4 million in annual support and increase this by 5.9 percent each year through 2010.
The current call load would be somewhat reduced for Medic One by having local fire districts take over some of the “basic life support” (BLS) calls, such as broken bones, leaving the more life-threatening situations to Medic One.

Not all districts are equipped to do so. In fire district 13, which includes Blaine, division chief Jim Rutherford said there definitely needs to be some kind of appropriate plan for the future of the service, but in the meantime “we’ve been training our people and acquiring the kind of equipment to take over as much of the BLS calls as practical. We've seen this coming for a while and have been getting ready,” Rutherford said.

The new agency, Whatcom County EMS Authority, is expected to be in operation by 2005.