The Department of Health, V.I. Fire Services and the Office of the Governor are moving forward with plans to integrate the Department of Health’s Emergency Medical Service with the Fire Service to form the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Service, according to a news release issued Monday by Government House.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. first spearheaded the idea of consolidating the two and his administration had planned to do so in 2013. That didn’t occur and was not a priority in the administration of Gov. Kenneth Mapp. Gov. Albert Bryan again made it a priority after he took office in January.
EMS officials have raised concerns about being folded into a different agency. Proponents argue it allows for greater efficiency and coordination.
The integration project team, led by the Office of the Governor and spearheaded by the governor’s public policy advisor, Marise James, convened a meeting July 19 to continue work on key components of the integration plan.
“I have assembled a team of cabinet members and policy advisors to assist the members of the Department of Health and Fire in the development of the integration plan,” James said in the news release, adding that “the first planning sessions have been led by Personnel Director Dayna Clendenin because the employees are the most important part of a successful integration.”
“Transferring EMS with Fire requires a systematic approach to implementing the consolidation to ensure success moving forward. The leadership of the DOH, Fire Service, Office of the Governor, Division of Personnel and Office of Collective Bargaining have formed a project team to execute the transition,” Clendinen said.
Bryan said he hopes as part of the integration, the newly-formed VIFEMS will leverage the benefits of a combined fire and EMS system.
“If nothing else, we must be ever cognizant that we are completely cut off from the rest of the world in the face of any disaster and having more people trained and ready to respond to medical emergencies could never be a bad thing,” Bryan said. “Not only do we realize the skills and availability of additional medical responders, but they are also spread out and strategically placed at deployment locations throughout the territory.”
He said the reason for this integration is “to make our communities safer.”
“A territorial system of emergency medical care is necessary to promote the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the territory. Reducing response time to medical emergencies is a critical objective of this integration,” he said.
Each agency listed current processes the integration can help improve and also detailed issues that would need to be resolved before the transition is complete.
During the meeting with more than 30 representatives from both agencies, Bryan said that most of our population is over 55 years old and stressed the importance of finding a more effective way to serve residents in need of emergency medical care on each island.
In early June, Office of Collective Bargaining Director Joss Springette met with union officials for the fire and health employees to discuss the integration and to ensure the concerns of the union members were adequately addressed.
“We encouraged the unions to share any other information, suggestions or concerns they may have with the agency heads and their respective members of the project team,” Springette said.
The next meeting of the integration team is scheduled for early August.