Chief of EMS Discusses the Upcoming Levy-letters

Chief of EMS Discusses the Upcoming Levy

Asking the voters to approve a levy increase is never popular, even in good times. But approval of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) levy is responsible and conservative, and will ensure the financial viability of our system for years to come.

On August 2, voters will be asked to consider raising the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) levy lid from the approved 35 cents to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The current 35 cents per $1,000 levy will expire December 31, 2016.

I will not mince words about the stakes involved. If the residents of San Juan and surrounding islands do not support the levy, San Juan Island EMS and the emergency medical services as you’ve known it will cease to exist.

I have had conversations with many of you to determine the level of service you want delivered to the community. The EMS Levy will fund the continuation of Basic Life Support (EMTs), Injury Prevention through in-home assessments, community CPR Training and Advanced Life Support (Paramedics). The levy will also ensure the funding of vital equipment, supplies and training.

The challenge for managers of emergency services throughout the nation is first and foremost simple economics. Keeping the levy rate at its current rate of 35 cents would result in a $2.4 million system shortfall in six years.

Inflation has taken its toll. The value of 25 cents in 1979, if simply increased for inflation, is worth over 70 cents today. (For example, the average cost of an ambulance in 1979 was around $30,000. Today’s cost is $170,000.) Add in decreased property valuations and lowered federal Medicare reimbursements, and it becomes evident that a levy increase is necessary.

While we continually look for more ways to save money, there are some things we cannot eliminate. We have medical equipment reaching or exceeding its lifespan and ambulances that are more than 20 years old. Training programs cannot be cut because of federal and state requirements. The training budget is already at the bare minimum to keep us legally compliant.

To maintain a sustainable service, we must build and keep a workforce able to meet the needs and challenges of emergency medicine. We are fortunate to have such a high caliber of highly trained EMS personnel. The San Juan Islands consistently achieves in the top 10 national rankings for cardiac arrest survival rates, and ranks among the best of rural emergency medical services in the country.

Although the EMS staff is stretched thin, their dedication never wavers. They understand that they are entrusted with the enormous responsibility of caring for your family and neighbors during what is often the worst day of their lives, and make every effort to provide the best possible service. They draw not only on their professionalism, but also their intimate knowledge of the island and its residents.

This makes it possible for our crew to walk into a home, quickly stabilize a situation and say: “I know Mr. Smith. I’ve seen him before and am familiar with his situation. Let’s do an assessment and determine what his needs are today. If needed, we’ll run him up to the hospital.” This skilled, personalized care— especially on an island with an aging population—is possible only with a sustained EMS system.

And if transport to a hospital is necessary? Residents of the San Juan Island EMS district can rest easy knowing they will not be charged “out-of-pocket” ambulance expenses. That means that the insurance company, Medicare or Medicaid will be billed, but the co-pay is “covered” by the district’s EMS levy. Patients who live outside our district are charged the full transport fee. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please e-mail me directly at Copies of our expected 2017 budget are available at our website at

On behalf of the men and women of San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services that serve you, your family and friends and those visiting our islands, I thank you for your support.

Jerry V. Martin Chief/CEO San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services

San Juan Island