Middlebury rescue scales back offerings

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Regional EMS has phased out some of its two-year-old expanded services and has asked to once again receive Town Meeting Day contributions from area towns in order to stabilize its budget.
That was the message that Middlebury Regional EMS board President Mike Roy gave to the Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday, Sept. 9. Roy said that while the nonprofit rescue organization is financially solvent, it needs to become more conservative in its budgeting and more measured in the services that it provides.
Middlebury Regional, under the watch of its former Executive Director Bill Edson, in 2013 expanded programming to include operating an around-the-clock communications center offering dispatching and pager services to public and private organizations, hosting educational programming, and providing billing for outside ambulance and emergency services.
Edson — who left Middlebury Regional in May to become executive director of the Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center in Gardner, Mass. — had lobbied for the new programming as a means of providing more predictable revenue during this era of state and federal health care reforms and volatile Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.
But Roy explained that the new services aren’t proving as lucrative as anticipated.
“Some of it has to do with overly optimistic revenue projections,” Roy said. “We built our budget assumptions around revenue that just turned out not to actually be true.”
Also affecting Middlebury Regional’s bottom line — debt service for the organization’s four-year-old, $2.4 million headquarters off South Street, and an ongoing trend of having more paid staff, as opposed to volunteers.
“Over time, we have shifted to a staff that is more professional and salaried, and there are costs related to that,” Roy said.
In an effort to contain expenses, the organization has during the past nine months:
•  Worked out a new pricing schedule for its new communications service that will better allow for it to at least break even.
•  Discontinued its new billing service.
•  Phased out a new layer of middle management and redeployed those workers to providing direct patient services.
•  Stepped up fundraising efforts.
In addition to those austerity measures, the organization wants to resume receiving Town Meeting Day contributions in the 10 communities it serves. Middlebury Regional began requesting that help in 1998, but ceased doing so in 2012 in light of improved business practices and a steady increase in calls for service. Those annual appropriations totaled around $30,000.
“We realized the decision we made (in 2012) was simply not a prudent decision, so we wanted, as part of a larger restructuring of the way we approach our budget, to alert you we are likely going to come back and say we’d like to restore that funding,” Roy told the selectboard at its Sept. 9 meeting.
“The message is, we will be fine during the next year or two, but looking longer-term, we are realizing that the decision to step away from looking to towns for funding was probably not the right decision,” he added.
Middlebury selectboard members expressed a willingness to waive the customary petitioning requirement to allow Middlebury Regional to rejoin the list of social service agencies receiving town meeting funds. But the organization will have to abide by a recently revised policy that now requires social service agencies to make their case for funding every five years at town meeting.
And Roy promised that Middlebury Regional, as it retires debt for its building, will become more diligent in salting away money for future ambulance replacement and maintenance.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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