Support GEMS

FI-EditorialNormally you would not find anyone questioning the need for vital life safety services, but it’s budget season in Greenwich, so normal sometimes has to take a backseat.

Perhaps sensing that this year’s vote on the $395-million 2014-15 municipal budget scheduled for this coming Monday before the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) lacked some controversy, there is now an extra look being taken at Greenwich Emergency Medical Services (GEMS). Despite one of the most impressive records in the country for lifesaving ability, suddenly there’s a question of whether we even need GEMS or if a for-profit organization would be better.

The very idea is ludicrous. That needs to be said up front. However, let’s humor the critics for a moment, even though most of them have preferred to remain anonymous through unsigned letters being circulated around town. After all, scrutiny of the budget is important and the RTM would not be doing its job if it didn’t examine where taxpayer money is going and how effective the results are.

A 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, GEMS has the facts to back up its claims that Greenwich gets a vital service for its money. The BET already has provided extra scrutiny by asking for financial documents and they were quickly provided, showing needed transparency as well as proving GEMS’ case to the finance board. GEMS keeps its costs low and its staffing lean, and it’s important to remember that this is a public/private partnership where town money makes up only a portion of the GEMS budget.

But beyond GEMS being a strong fiscal steward, consider this: The national save rate for cardiac patients is only 8%. GEMS is annually in the 35%-40% range. That alone should end the conversation. GEMS saves lives.

Are we a town that is always looking to save a buck and prioritizing that over everything else? For years, segments of the RTM and the BET have pushed austerity measures that strangle town services, but at least the people pushing those ideas have put their names on them to create open debate. To belittle GEMS from the shadows is misguided, and that’s putting it generously.

Greenwich is already the envy of neighboring towns with its low taxes, and around this time of year people beat the drums about what they claim is out-of-control spending, almost to the point of overkill. The truth is that attracting new residents to Greenwich requires more than just low taxes. People here need to know that if they are in trouble, they will be taken care of.

Why would we switch from the proven livesaving track record of GEMS to try some new for-profit organization? But why stop there? Let’s privatize police and fire services, too, and replace the Board of Selectmen with a board of directors. That makes about as much sense as getting rid of GEMS.

The truth is that it’s easy to take GEMS for granted … until you need it. But when it’s you or a loved one in the car accident or suffering chest pains, wouldn’t you want an organization with a proven track record of 24/7 coverage throughout town that responds to a call within five minutes 75% of the time and is there within eight minutes 95% of the time? When it’s your life on the line or that of someone you care about, everything else goes out the window. We want our police, our firefighters and our ambulance corps there for us.

GEMS has proven itself for close to 30 years. Cutting its budget for the sake of cutting spending and anonymously sniping it is wrong. The RTM should quickly reject any attempt to do that.

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