Dismayed by hospital district’s decision | Guest column

Submitted by Dan Paulson

I was surprised and dismayed to learn that the Public Hospital District board has decided to suspend and possibly terminate the Interlocal Agreement between San Juan Fire District 3 and EMS. I understand that the COVID pandemic is requiring more attention from both of these agencies but I would also urge the five PHD commissioners (four are new to the board) to not dismiss several years of good and extensive work towards the integration of EMS and fire.

I was a member of the Citizens Advisory Group that worked for over a year to research the integration of EMS and Fire. We produced an extensive report that is the framework for the process to merge the two agencies together. A steering committee was formed to start this process and the EMS Chief and a PHD Commissioner have always been a part of this steering committee. I was also a paramedic and part of the group that established the EMS system on San Juan in the late ’70s.

There are many advantages to the merger, including improved response time; unified training program; unified command structure; administrative cost savings; simplified levy management; and in house EMTs, paramedics and fire personal.

Under the merger, all paid personnel (a paramedic, an EMT and fire personnel, per shift) should be based at the station and the volunteer base will continue to respond from other areas of the island. Over 60 percent of aid calls occur in town, so there will be a significant improvement in response times. There will be increased efficiencies when all responders to an incident have a clear and well-planned command structure, rather than multiple agencies showing up that don’t work under the same administration.

Good progress has been made to begin to merge EMS and fire together and both the Fire chief and the EMS chief are already seeing the multiple benefits of this coordination. The current EMS system on San Juan is unique in that there are very few EMS agencies in the state that are not working in combination with a fire district. In fact, most of the Washington State laws are geared towards this. The current trend throughout the country is to have EMS systems operating with fire districts. San Juan Fire District 3 has a very good record of managing their system and personnel, and always having a balanced budget The Leadership has been working through the CAG recommendations over the past year and exploring all options from a legal and financial perspective and implementing or planning to implement as many as possible.

I urge the PHD commissioners to continue working towards this merger with fire. It will provide quicker response times, better patient care, cost efficiencies and a unified and efficient incident command structure that will greatly improve the quality of healthcare on San Juan island. The goal should be to provide the highest level of patient care as well as be fiscally responsible.