Vt. lawmakers, stakeholders take on EMS challenges

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) — Ensuring Vermont residents get the emergency services they need, no matter where they are, was the focus of Wednesday’s roundtables, which included lawmakers, state officials and other stakeholders.

Across Vermont, communities large and small depend on emergency medical services.

“The only service you can call anytime. If a social service goes down, the ball lands on EMS,” said Drew Hazelton of Rescue Inc.

The first responders handle all types of emergencies, including medical, psychiatric, and drug use calls. But the workforce is tense. National figures show that 20% of EMS staff retire every four years, particularly in rural volunteer departments

“We normally have crews of three – a driver and two service providers in the back. Lately, the last four to five years, we’ve had a good time filling a crew. When a second call comes in – really difficult,” said Hardwick Rescue Squad’s Tim Nisbet.

And then they have to call other departments from further away. Staff is just a challenge. There’s also education, training, retention, transportation, and below-average Medicaid reimbursement rates. “The cost of training volunteers has increased dramatically,” said Karl Stein of the Hardwick Rescue Squad.

Dozens of emergency workers, state officials, lawmakers, and other stakeholders are putting their heads together to keep emergency services sustainable. Rural states have always relied on the services, but the training and skills to deliver these services have become more complex. EMS played an outsized role in the pandemic, providing COVID tests, vaccines and other treatments. “EMS is not part of the 1960s. It’s part of our healthcare system,” Hazelton said.

The group hopes to bring that conversation to the Statehouse in the next legislative session to explore alternative funding options and recruitment. “Now is the moment – before the whole system collapses – for us to innovate and reinvent EMS in Vermont so that everyone, no matter where you live in Vermont, has someone who can help you when you need them.” , said Rep Katerine Sims, D-Craftsbury.

Almost all providers say Wednesday that part of the solution will be how we view EMS, from only first responders to the basics of Vermont’s health care system.


Vermont officials are working on ways to ensure people get the level of care they need when they ask for help.

Right now, after calling 911, sometimes patients who need help with mental health and substance use are rushed to the emergency room. And a lack of step-down facilities to discharge these patients creates a backlog that puts a strain on hospitals

Now the state is considering creating a 100-bed skilled nursing facility that would accept patients from hospitals and provide them with the right level of care

said Megan Tierney-Ward, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living.

The state is still actively recruiting contractors for the initiative, so cost, location, and vendors are up in the air.

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