Should the Woodbridge EMS have stayed? Marrella

Marrella stands by her decision

In December, the Woodbridge Board of Selectmen (BOS) contracted with AMR to provide ambulance transport and ceased operation of the Town ambulance service, which was staffed by 40 paid employees. The selectmen's action allows the Town to provide the same quality of emergency medical services to Woodbridge residents at considerably less cost and less liabilityexposure.

The BOS acted in unison after carefully reviewing the issue and hearing two and one-half hours of public comment. We accepted the unanimous recommendation of the Town EMS Commission, which had been reviewing the operation of the Town ambulance for the past year. The EMS Commission includes two cardiologists who actively supported the creation of the Town ambulance service a few years ago. Further, both Ed Sheehy and Joe Calistro of the BOS led the motions to change ambulance service in Woodbridge. Calistro and Sheehy have served as selectmen for many years and participated in the creation of the Town ambulance service.

Woodbridge continues to have three layers of emergency medical response. The police are the first responders, and carry defibrillators. An AMR paramedic is stationed in a "fly car" in the center of Town around the clock and responds rapidly to emergencies. The paramedic can treat injuries, monitor cardiac rhythms, start intravenous fluids, and administer some medicines. Often the paramedic must spend time administering fluids and/or drugs in order to stabilize the patient prior to transport. The ambulance is the third layer of emergency medical response.

I can understand that this change is upsetting for certain people. The Town ambulance service was set up while Roger Harrison was First Selectman. Russell Arpaia, the former EMS Director, has lost his job. But disappointment is not an acceptable basis for misleading the public.

"Response time" for an ambulance is the time it takes to arrive at the scene of a medical emergency. Harrison does not acknowledge the difference between an "average" response time and a "ninety percent fractile" response time. Comparing average response times to fractile response times is like comparing apples to oranges. Arpaia admitted at the January Board of Selectmen meeting that fractile response times will be higher than average response times.

Further, the fractille response time is important because this measurement ensures Woodbridge receives reliability of service. An average reflects only the "middle-of-the-pack" response; there will be many calls that are higher than the average. With a 90 percent fractile response time, 90 percent of the calls must be at or below the stated time limit.

Finally, it is worth noting that some of Woodbridge's ambulance staff were allowed to be at home while on duty. If they were at home when they received a call, they would have to drive to the Town center to pick up the ambulance before responding to the call. In contrast, AMR's staff are ready to start the ambulance when the call comes in.

Since 1994, Orange has contracted with AMR for both ambulance service and a Town-dedicated paramedic. The arrangement works well in Orange and the Woodbridge selectmen believe it will serve Woodbridge well, too.