After a decade of bliss, a family shows fissures moving forward
|Published: 02-05-2023 6:00 PM
To officials in Allenstown, their departure from an agreement to share emergency medical services with Pembroke was a breakthrough for the town, a time to celebrate the independence and growth of this life-saving program.
“The Allenstown Fire Department reached a new milestone and made a mark in history,” Allenstown Fire Chief Eric Lambert declared to the town last month through an emailed memo. “After providing first response care along with the Tri-Town ambulance since the 70’s, we were approved by the state of New Hampshire to begin our own transporting ambulance service.”
The news, however, is viewed quite differently by Pembroke officials, who believe their Suncook Valley neighbors are wasting money while subtracting from what has been a public service gem since the two towns joined forces 10 years ago to save money and increase efficiency and resources.
It also means Pembroke has had to rethink its upcoming town budget, now that they’ll be fitting the bill for their own rescue and medical services after 2024. Select board member Karen Yeaton believes Allenstown is shooting itself in the foot by choosing to leave, and in doing so has dragged Pembroke down with it.
“I think they are wrong,” Yeaton said by phone recently. “I do not think what they are doing will be economically feasible, and the more important issue is that they are sacrificing the quality of service that it currently offers. There’s no way they can match that.”
Lambert, Allenstown’s chief, said he knew the issue has become a political hot button.
“We don’t want a war,” he said. “We want to make it where we have two amazing services in both towns.”
An initial agreement, reached in the 1970s, connected Hooksett with Pembroke and Allenstown, part of the never-ending small-town search to ensure that the resources needed to care for the sick and injured would be available and, as a bonus, at a cheaper cost through a shared workload.
Hooksett stepped aside and Pembroke and Allenstown reached an agreement in 2013 to continue what had been called the Tri-Town EMS.
The document tying the two towns together read, in part, “The purpose of this agreement is to allow the towns to jointly provide 24/7 emergency medical services and to share the costs associated with emergency medical service functions, including salary, benefits, training and equipment.”
Slowly, Allenstown wanted to branch out on its own, citing the meteoric rise in ambulance costs, which had more than doubled over the past 10 years.
The towns pay their share based on the number of emergency calls each receives. Pembroke recently paid 51 percent of a $600,000 bill. The co-sharing format ends at the end of next year.
“That number is going to increase because we’re going to have to start planning for the future for this community,” David Jodoin, Pembroke’s town administrator, said at a budget meeting Thursday night.
In fact, Pembroke successfully petitioned the state’s Department of Revenue Administration to utilize $450,000 from the town’s unreserved balance to purchase enough equipment to maintain emergency medical response services after next year.
Pembroke released an official statement at Thursday’s meeting, saying, “Failure by the Pembroke Budget Committee to immediately take the action it did, could likely have resulted in Pembroke having no emergency medical response services as of Jan. 1, 2025.”
Allenstown’s research into its financial data told officials that leaving the partnership was the right thing to do to attain more bang for the town’s buck.
“It will provide a more enhanced and versatile service by providing our own ambulance with firefighters,” Lambert said by phone. “There’s been a lot of growth coming to town with new buildings, and our call volume has increased, so if you look at the math, at what we pay for as a town and when our budgets are together, this was fiscally responsible.”
Yeaton isn’t so sure. She said research by Tri-Town EMS board members indicated that the Allenstown plan “miscalculates costs and residents should expect higher costs.”
Further, Yeaton said Pembroke officials were told of the separation in an untimely, late manner, adding that the Allenstown Select Board was not forthcoming when it came to releasing information, choosing to maneuver in a more clandestine manner.
“I’m looking for answers because it impacts both of us financially,” Yeaton said. “I don’t understand what their motivation is. Why take away the gold standard of service and pay more for something less?”