Opinion

Keep dollars here | Editorial

The city’s idea to have Mercer Island firefighters transport more patients to hospitals is a good one.

The city and the fire department have proposed that the city take over transporting patients to hospitals from private ambulance companies. Such a move will bring dollars back to the city that presently go to private companies off Island. Instead of citizens paying for private ambulance services through their insurance companies, the city will bill and collect the fees.

Now when Island emergency personnel are summoned for an emergency, they assess and stabilize a patient, then decide what needs to happen next. If it is determined that the patient is stable and not critical, yet needs to be taken to a hospital, a local ambulance company is called. If the patient is critical, Mercer Island firefighters transport the patient themselves. Since firefighters must now wait with a patient until private transportation arrives, they are unavailable for other emergencies until the ambulance arrives. They sometimes wait longer than if they transported the patient themselves.

Yet, if firefighters go off Island to take a patient to the hospital, what will happen to emergency readiness here?

The fire department battalion chief on duty will decide if there is adequate staffing here to respond to an emergency before allowing a team to transport a patient to Seattle or Bellevue. At the same time, the chief monitors the resources of the surrounding communities. The firefighters here are a professional lot. They are tuned in to the needs of the Island. We trust that they make decisions based first on the health and safety of Islanders.

The benefit to the city is self-evident. If approved, the city and citizens get to keep the dollars that essentially go off Island. With that extra money, some proposed cuts to city services may be restored. The city will not invoke the 1 percent property tax increase that they are allowed to impose each year. Best of all, insurance companies, not citizens or patients, will be billed for the service, and if they cannot pay the full amount or a large deductible, they will not be charged by the city for the residual.

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