Connecticut Dispatch Co-Op Passes 1-Month Budget in Fight for Survival
The South Central Connecticut Regional Emergency Communications System (CMED) board unanimously agreed on a one-month budget Friday to extend scaled-back operations.
The CMED board also came up with a schedule for $185,000 in additional fees for the four communities— Bethany, Ansonia, Derby and Shelton— that require dispatching services beyond the three core services most communities want.
With the clock ticking, it also tasked a new committee to come up with a more long-term plan to see if the regional dispatching cooperative can survive.
But several members, including Board Secretary Michael Freda, first selectman of North Haven, said they still don’t know if CMED ultimately will survive.
New Haven, West Haven, Hamden, which collectively account for 43.85% of CMED’s budget, and North Branford all have threatened to pull out, and the legislative bodies in New Haven, West Haven and North Branford have voted to do so.
Freda, who led the meeting with Vice Chairman William Dickinson, mayor of Wallingford, in the absence of vacationing Chairwoman Derrylyn Gorski, told the 37 people there that CMED needs to know by mid-July what members’ intentions are and whether they plan to remain members.
He also said that if CMED does survive, “we need to re-engineer the whole board. I don’t think people like me and Bill should be working with the executive director. I think it should be the fire chiefs.”
The total $1.09 million budget approved Friday represents a 33.2% decrease from the current $1.64 million budget and will cut the number of CMED dispatchers from 15 to 9, while focusing on the three core services of medical “patching” to connect accident scenes to hospitals, mutual aid and mass casualty coordination.
The $886.236 town share of that budget represents a 32.1% decrease.
In approving the fee schedule for non-core dispatching services, the CMED board rejected arguments from CMED South Central Executive Director Gary Stango and Derby Assistant Fire Chief Tom Lenart Jr. to restore three dispatchers to make sure CMED has the staff to do that work.
“We cannot do the non-core functions on a daily basis with the nine staffers,” said Stango, saying CMED needed the additional three.
The non-core services include 9-1-1 fire and ambulance dispatching for Bethany, fire and ambulance dispatching for Derby and ambulance dispatching for Ansonia and Shelton.
Members decided instead to distribute the payments to lower the overall costs of core services after New Haven representative Rick Fontana argued that if CMED eliminates the need for emergency responders to sign in for the less-severe priority 2 medical calls, “you’re reducing the workload significantly.”
New Haven and several other communities already communicate directly with hospitals on those types of calls, bypassing CMED.
Derby Mayor Anita Dugatto cast the lone vote against the schedule for non-core services, saying she was not comfortable with the nine-dispatcher staffing level.
Two dispatchers’ union representatives, President Kevin Sheil and Business Agent Kevin Scrobola of Local 1103 of the Communications Workers of America, both charged that there were “hidden agendas” behind the changes, including board members and their families who work for American Medical Response, the private ambulance company that submitted proposals to provide dispatching services for both New Haven and West Haven.
“You privatize this and it’s going to be about dollars and cents … and people are going to die,” said Scrobola.
Two dispatchers, midnight shift supervisor Alicia Belnsky and Mike Leary, who expect to be laid off, both argued that retaining additional dispatchers is necessary for safety.