Op-Ed

Whatcom County EMS levy crucial to maintaining paramedic service

Paramedics with Whatcom Medic One wheel a patient into St. Joesph hospital in Bellingham in 2012. Whatcom County voters will be asked to pass a property tax levy to help pay for emergency medical services on the Nov. 8, 2016, ballot. For a home valued at $300,000, the proposed six-year levy would add $88.50 per year to property taxes.
Paramedics with Whatcom Medic One wheel a patient into St. Joesph hospital in Bellingham in 2012. Whatcom County voters will be asked to pass a property tax levy to help pay for emergency medical services on the Nov. 8, 2016, ballot. For a home valued at $300,000, the proposed six-year levy would add $88.50 per year to property taxes. The Bellingham Herald

A car crash, a heart attack, a home or workplace injury – these events happen every day in our community. When you call 911 due to a severe illness or injury, a complex chain of events is set in motion to get help to you as soon as possible. Within minutes of the call, your local fire department EMTs are in your home beginning care. For serious medical problems, paramedics will arrive to stabilize you and transport you to the hospital.

Paramedics bring the emergency room to your living room, your office, the soccer field, or a hiking trail. This advanced level of care continues until you reach the hospital. In November, Whatcom County residents will be asked to vote for an emergency medical services levy to maintain this lifesaving system.

We need to put in place a stable, sustainable revenue source that will allow our emergency medical services to keep up with growth.

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.

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. The 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.

Stable funding

Proposition 1, the EMS levy on this November’s ballot, 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 social services.

Currently our county 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.

Service levels

The EMS levy is crucial to maintaining our current level of service. The Whatcom County EMS Executive Oversight Board has stated in a Sept. 20 memo: “...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.”

No matter where you are – at a farm outside of Lynden, skiing at Mount Baker, or on a boat on Bellingham Bay – the EMS levy will allow paramedics and EMTs to continue to reach you quickly throughout Whatcom County. Vote yes on Proposition 1 – EMS saves lives.

Erica Littlewood Work is the chair of the EMS Saves Lives Committee, which is a coalition of Whatcom County citizens, health care providers and first responders working to ensure stable funding to maintain rapid emergency medical response. She is also 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.

EMS tax

Whatcom County voters will consider a six-year levy to fund emergency medical services on the Nov. 8, 2016 ballot. For a home valued at $300,000, Whatcom County Proposition No. 2016-1 would add $88.50 per year to property taxes, or $531 over the life of the levy if the home’s value remained the same. The levy requires 60 percent approval to pass.

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