MANCHESTER — The final report produced by consultants critical of the Northshire Rescue Squad reached the same conclusions as a presentation made in public last month — including one option that the town run its own ambulance service.
Town Manager John O’Keefe said the report only differed in the level of detail offered during the Jan. 11 presentation to the Select Board.
“I think the issues are the same,” O’Keefe said. “This gives both sides something to talk about. They’re not going to agree with everything in the report — and that’s part of the discussion working out the differences.”
The report, produced by consultants Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, N.H., suggests that the town spend more than $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to form its own ambulance service in partnership with a health care provider. It says the Rescue Squad’s response times are below accredited standards for critical calls, cites the use of a billing contractor charging 11 percent when cheaper options are available, and questions whether the Rescue Squad should have a greater focus on Manchester as half of its service population and nearly 70 percent of its calls.
It was issued as leaders from the town and the Rescue Squad work toward a resolution of their contract impasse. Both sides said Thursday they will continue to move forward with those talks, even though the Rescue Squad still disagrees strongly with some of the report’s findings.
Thursday night, members of the Rescue Squad and the Select Board were scheduled to meet, said Chairman Ivan Beattie. And Rescue Squad Treasurer Jim Salsgiver said the Emergency Services Medical Board, the five-town advisory panel created in 2017 as a way for members towns to communicate with the Rescue Squad and its board of trustees, will meet next week.
The Northshire Rescue Squad, a nonprofit independent from the town of Manchester, also serves Danby, Dorset, Mount Tabor and part of Winhall. Its contract with Manchester expired in June 2020, and it is seeking a new three-year deal extending through June 2025.
Beattie, along with Salsgiver and Rescue Squad President Susan Howard, expressed optimism that an agreement on the contract can be reached.
“Because we’ve seen a lot of changes in Manchester, our relationship needs to be somewhat different. We’re still trying to identify and codify that into a workable agreement,” Beattie said. “I am extremely hopeful we can keep moving forward. But there are painful discussions taking place. I hope we can all lick our wounds and bring this to an agreement that works for everyone.”
Howard said she still has disagreements with the conclusions drawn in the report, but remains committed to working with Manchester. She didn’t comment on specifics, saying she wanted to give the entire board time to read and digest the report.
“We’ll talk about it and go from there,” Howard said. “I feel a lot of progress has been made, and we will continue to do so.”
A draft of the final report was shared with the leadership of the Rescue Squad via Salsgiver on Wednesday, and it was posted on the town website Thursday.
“We do have real differences with some of the conclusions — because the conclusions seem to suggest things that are inconsistent with what we think was discussed with the consultants. We just found it’s not really an accurate representation,” said Salsgiver. “It pointed to some things that can probably be improved, but it pointed to us — Northshire Rescue Squad — as being all our issue as to why it’s not working better.”
“We’re still trying to work on moving forward with the towns,” he added. “We do recognize that Manchester is the biggest town and has certain needs, and we want to accommodate that. At the same time, we’re trying to manage the fact we operate in a five-town area.”
In a presentation last week, the Rescue Squad faulted the consultant’s Manchester-centric focus and defended its quality of service, level of employee training and response times. It cast doubt on the town’s ability to staff and license its own ambulance service, and called for improved communications between itself and the towns it services leading to a three-year contract through 2025. And it said the billing service it uses has a 92 percent collections rate on allowable bills.
Where both sides agree is that communication has been lacking.