EMS Saves Lives

Vote Yes on Proposition 1

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Imagine waking in the middle of the night feeling short of breath and with pain in your chest. You call 911, and within minutes your local fire department EMTs are in your home beginning care. A short while later, paramedics arrive to stabilize you and transport you to the hospital. The complex chain of events that mobilizes emergency medical care in Whatcom County is activated many times a day, every day of the year.

Paramedics bring the emergency room to you wherever you are in Whatcom County—your home or office, the soccer field, or a hiking trail. This advanced level of care continues until you reach the hospital. On your general election ballot, you are asked to vote for an emergency medical services (EMS) levy to maintain this lifesaving countywide system.

Four paramedic units serve all of Whatcom County with advanced emergency medical skills. The fourth unit was added 15 years ago, and since then our county population has grown by more than 40,000 people. Our diverse geography complicates the delivery of service by our paramedic units—an ambulance may be meeting the Lummi Island ferry for one medical call, and driving up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area for the next.

To address the challenge to our strained countywide EMS system, a group of fire officials, labor leaders and representatives from the small cities, Bellingham and Whatcom County worked together for 15 months. This EMS levy was unanimously approved as the best solution to provide stable, dedicated funding to maintain our system. These city and county leaders have confirmed that if the levy fails, EMS service will be cut, response times will be longer and lives will be impacted.

Proposition 1—the EMS levy—is a reasonable solution to fund Whatcom County’s system. The levy will provide training and lifesaving equipment for paramedics and EMTs, expanding the system as necessary to maintain our rapid emergency medical response. A fifth paramedic unit will be put into operation in the county, where it is needed. Duplication among agencies will be reduced. The levy will also support a community paramedic program to help reduce calls from frequent system users, connecting them with appropriate social services.

Currently our countywide paramedic system is funded by user fees, sales tax revenue, and the Whatcom County and Bellingham general funds. In recent years, this funding method has been unable to keep up with population growth, reductions in federal reimbursements for medical transport, and rising medical equipment costs. To increase efficiency, fire agencies throughout the county began transporting less seriously ill or injured patients to the hospital, saving the paramedic units for more critical medical calls. This, in turn, has put staffing pressure on our local fire departments and districts. Our system is stretched to the limit.

Whatcom County is the only county in Washington state that still funds emergency medical services from fluctuating general funds. We need to put in place a stable, sustainable revenue source that will allow our emergency medical services to keep up with growth. By state law, EMS levy funds can only be used for that purpose. Proposition 1 will provide a dedicated fund to continue rapid emergency medical response in our community.

The EMS levy is crucial to maintaining our current level of service. The Whatcom County EMS Executive Oversight Board has stated “...should the measure fail, numerous local fire districts would likely have to pursue their own district ballot measures to provide service. Fundamentally, without the certainty that the proposed EMS ballot measure provides, Whatcom County emergency medical services would be provided in a patchwork approach, not likely at the existing level of service, nor able to meet future demands.” (Whatcom County EMS Executive Oversight Board memo, Sept. 20, 2016)

If the EMS levy fails, our Whatcom County emergency medical services system will be diminished. Passing the levy will allow EMTs and paramedics to continue to reach you quickly – wherever you are—in a critical situation. Vote YES on Proposition 1—because EMS saves lives.

Erica Littlewood Work is chair of the EMS Saves Lives Committee. EMS Saves Lives is a coalition of Whatcom County citizens, healthcare providers and first responders working to ensure stable funding to maintain our rapid emergency medical response. Erica Littlewood Work is the public educator for South Whatcom Fire Authority and a medical trainer for the Mt. Baker Ski Patrol, and has been on the Whatcom County EMS/Trauma Care Council for 14 years. Cascadia Weekly requested this opinion piece in support of Whatcom County Proposition One.

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