The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Elizabeth Pullman
Contributing Writer 

What is the Jefferson Valley Rural Ambulance District and How Does it Affect You?

 

December 2, 2020

Pictured is the new Jefferson Valley EMS and Rescue location at 201 W. Legion. Ledger photo by Jack H. Smith

As time passes, we are all realizing we are not living in the same world we were this time last year. With COVID-19's uncertainties it is important to look at our own health, options, and where our care comes from. In March 2020, before COVID-19 hit, the Jefferson Valley Rural Ambulance District (JVRAD) requested an article be written to provide clear and unbiased information to the town of Whitehall and its surrounding communities. When COVID-19 hit, this article was put on hold because of the pandemic. Now, as we become more and more accustomed to the daily mask-wearing, hand sanitizing and COVID-19 protocols, the JVRAD's mission and information clarification is more important than ever.

First, let's set forth the players in this article: The Jefferson Valley Rural Ambulance District (JVRAD), Pulse Ambulance Services (Pulse), and the Town of Whitehall (Town). The clarification between these entities is critical, as in the past they're involvements were different than they are today.

The JVRAD is an elected board of volunteers who strive to provide our area with high quality ambulance services by contracting an ambulance provider. They are the governing board – not a service provider – and operate under Jefferson County, who also holds their funding. Current members of the board include Susan Pullman, Jenny Scott, Rico Patacini, Dana Brunet, and Holly Harper. JVRAD helps their contracted ambulance service provider by assisting with operational expenses. At this point, these operational expenses are changing daily as the needs of P.U.L.S.E. are expressed to the board.

P.U.L.S.E., which also does business under the name Jefferson Valley Emergency Medical Service, is the current contracted ambulance service provider chosen by the JVRAD. Pulse stands for "Partners United for Life Saving Education." They have a legal contract to provide high quality emergency medical services to the area designated to be within the JVRAD district (which will be discussed shortly). Pulse is a private entity hired by JVRAD and do not have voting rights on decisions made by JVRAD, but they do voice their needs to JVRAD in order to provide optimal service.

The Town, at one point in time, provided ambulance services for the entire township and outlying areas, via members of Pulse, but not Pulse as it stands today. Due to fiscal and volunteer issues, this agreement was negated in 2014 and the Town no longer makes decisions regarding the ambulance services of Whitehall.

The JVRAD was created in the absence of the Town's involvement with the ambulance contract, becoming a go-between to ensure ambulance services to the Jefferson Valley residents. The district, which is confusing to many, encompasses the same boundaries for the Whitehall High School District EXCLUDING Madison County and Silver Bow County (who have their own ambulance services) and the Town of Whitehall.

Why does the district exclude the Town of Whitehall itself? There are many opinions on why the district excludes the town of Whitehall, but let's look at the facts.

In 2015 a petition was placed before the Town of Whitehall's residents to join the JVRAD as service provided area. As many probably remember, the feelings towards this petition were mixed. The petition was put forth by the now defunct Friends of the EMS and overseen by attorney Catherine Dinwiddie, as well as the then-current county attorney Matthew Johnson.

In a conversation with Dinwiddie, she expressed that there are three different ways to go about creating an ambulance district: 1) the County has their own resolution to create a district, 2) a petition with a 25% threshold of agreed voters is collected and put forth to the County Commissioners or 3) an election to create the district is held with a 50% threshold of agreed voters. The Friends of the EMS chose the petition route because they felt, at the time, it was the quicker solution to the immediate problem of not having an ambulance service.

"The petition, which went through two sets of legal eyes, was completely legal," Dimwiddie said, and the petition would have been successful in creating the district if the number of signatures required were obtained. However, because of negative feelings and misinformation, the petition failed within the Town of Whitehall boundaries. Hence, the district was created excluding the Town of Whitehall. At no time did the town move forward with voting.

Town of Whitehall employee Summer Fellows (now former as she no longer resides in the state), when interviewed, expressed concern that the petition was not legal, as it was left at public places – such as the Post Office – where no representative of JVRAD was on hand to physically collect the signatures. Dimwiddie said that the petition being left in public areas was legal, as it is the responsibility of the County Election Officer to verify all signatures for validity. Fellows iterated that she has a responsibility in her job to make sure that the People's voice is heard and that she felt the petition was not in the best interest of the townspeople as the information was not clear; she also stated she is not necessarily against the district's creation, but more against how it has been handled. This sentiment has been expressed by many others close to the Town government and by townspeople themselves.

Mayor Mary Hensleigh agrees that the original petition was not laid out clearly and created tensions during a time when emotions were high – as the Town had recently pulled out of the ambulance contract – and believe the voters did not sign because they did not understand their options.

"I've personally had amazing experiences with the JVRAD and [their contracted services] with Pulse in dealings with my parents. Their service is top notch, they are compassionate – I was impressed with the professionalism of their service and we are lucky to have them," Hensleigh said. She noted that because people were thinking with their hearts and emotions instead of looking at the facts, this is probably what lead to the results garnered.

Part II of this article series will cover what the district DOES and DOESN'T do, as well as how it benefits those within it.

 

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