WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Sept. 8 voted to proceed with the purchase of a new ambulance to be submitted as a COVID-related expense to the Plymouth County Commissioners for reimbursement.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam said the Commissioners have told towns that they wish to finalize distribution of federal COVID grant funds in October and transfer funds from communities that have not spent all the money they received to financially overburdened cities and towns.
Whitman already has two reimbursement claims pending, and Lynam said, the purchase of an ambulance — the sole use of which for the duration of the pandemic is for the transport of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 — is potentially a good move for the town. After the pandemic ends, the ambulance would become a fleet vehicle.
The cost of about $334,000 which may still leave the town with additional funds, depending on the claim from the school district to cover its COVID costs.
“We are slated to purchase an ambulance in two years,” Lynam said. “In fact, we put aside $150,000 in this year’s appropriations toward the purchase of the ambulance, so it seems to me that it would be advantageous to do that.”
The town must buy the ambulance before the county would reimburse for it. Two other county communities have purchased emergency response vehicles and received reimbursement, Lynam said.
“While we know there is some risk associated with this, we know that if we don’t do this, in FY ’22 we’re going to be looking at putting up more money for that same ambulance that we would then be purchasing,” Lynam said.
Joining the Zoom meeting, Fire Chief Timothy Grenno said the federal guidelines for the funds spell out that the money is intended to support purchase of equipment for medical or emergency transport.
“That’s what these departments are hanging their hats on,” Grenno said.
“I see no problem in it,” said Selectmen Vice Chairman Dan Salvucci, who conducted the meeting in Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski’s absence. “Where there’s a number of towns that are doing it, why wouldn’t we?”
Grenno described how the Fire Department operated in the spring during the first wave of COVID cases, noting that a second wave is forecast by some health experts for this fall.
“We have two primary ambulances,” he said. “One … which has the powerload stretcher, which is a stretcher that keeps the attendant away from the patient, and that is the recommended [ambulance] for COVID.”
One ambulance was designated as the “COVID truck,” Grenno said.
“It was draped in plastic and parked out back, and that truck only went out on COVID responses,” he said. “That forced us to put the reserve truck into service.”
That ambulance, a 2008 or 2010 model has an old stretcher and HVAC system — and is the one the department had already planned to replace next year.
“We actually ran three ambulances, but one was designated as the COVID truck,” Grenno said.
“I don’t question the purchase, I think I was the one actually advocating the purchase of one this year,” said Selectman Randy LaMattina. “I know these take months to spec out … do you know what’s the order time, the lag time to get it? When do we actually pay for it?”
Grenno said the dealer he works with has a demo that fits the department’s needs and specifications that can be delivered to the town as early as next week.
As a COVID-related expense spent from a COVID account from which the town expects to be reimbursed, no town meeting is required to authorize the expenditure, Lynam said.
“This is great planning,” Selectman Justin Evans said. “I think it’s a great use of the funds to get ourselves a couple of years ahead in our ambulance replacement plan.”
He wanted to make sure the schools or other department did not have unaddressed COVID needs.
Lynam said there is currently more than $1 million available in the COVID fund right now, and while he expects to see a significant figure from the school district, “They’re so wrapped up in scheduling, I can’t get a number out of them.”
The chairman of the Plymouth County Commissioners has informed towns that he wants all reimbursement requests in by Oct. 1, in order to begin reallocation to other communities by Oct. 2.
“There are so many resources out there for federal funds and federal resources out there right now, that it’s actually pretty crazy,” Grenno said. “When this money dries up, there are grant opportunities out there for PPE and stuff like that.”
Grenno said he now has enough PPE right now if things do get bad this fall.
If the ambulance reimbursement is denied a town meeting would be required to authorize the balance of what is needed to pay for it, Lynam said.
In other business, meeting jointly with the Library Board of Trustees, the two boards elected Margaret McEwan to fill a vacancy until the next Town Election. It took two ballots as the boards’ votes were tied between McEwan and Katherine Getchell.
“I feel as though I’d like to give back to the community,” said McEwan, who has lived in Whitman for more than 40 years. “Both my family and I have used the library extensively, and at this time in my life I thought it’s an opportunity to give back to a community service that’s meant a lot to me.”
Getchell also pointed to a desire to contribute to the community as a lifelong Whitman resident who recently retired from WHRHS.
“I read all the time and am a huge patron of the Whitman Public Library,” Getchell said, noting she has joined a couple of groups at the library. “I like to participate in what the library has to offer.”
Getchell has also been active in the Arts Council and Whitman Youth Football.