St. Croix in particular and the territory as a whole need more ambulances and more emergency medical technicians but does not have the funding to get them, officials told the Senate Committee on Health, Hospitals and Veterans Affairs.
On Tuesday Commissioner of Health Darice Plaskett said turnaround times for routine maintenance have left the department tight for vehicles, "especially in the St. Thomas-St. John district," and plans are in place to move out of service St. Thomas ambulances to St. Croix for repairs to speed up the work.
Budget cuts and lack of money are the root cause of the problems, and merging Emergency Medical Services with Fire Services would help financially, Plaskett said. The merger was transmitted as part of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, and the Health Department’s budget was cut by more than $3 million in wages and benefits, but the merger was not acted on, she said.
"Needless to say, it is going to be a tremendous challenge for DOH to sustain these cuts while striving to meet its legislative mandates. I must urge you to quickly act on proposed Fire/EMS legislation, as this would leverage limited resources, expand deployment sites and improve response time and services," Plaskett said.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen asked what the island of St. Croix needed for ambulance service.
"We need two new ambulances at least on St. Croix and full staff for a third service," said Acting Territorial EMS Coordinator David Sweeney. That would cover the Frederiksted area, which is currently served by Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, some distance away, he said. A service in this context is the crew to man an ambulance 24 hours a day.
Plaskett said a lack of funding is the sole obstacle to getting more ambulances and staff.
No votes were taken during this segment of the hearing, which was held to gather information in the Legislature’s oversight capacity.
Present were Sens. Sammuel Sanes, Craig Barshinger, Hansen, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Clarence Payne. Sens. Kenneth Gittens and Clarence Payne were absent.