LETTER: GEMS is a Gem in Greenwich

Submitted by Jennifer Baldock, Chairman of the Board Greenwich Emergency Medical Service (GEMS), Sept 28, 2017

This is an exciting time for Greenwich Emergency Medical Service (GEMS)! We have a new Executive Director, Tracy Schietinger. After 30 years of service to the Town, GEMS’ founding Executive Director Charlee Tufts retired last March. In recognition of her outstanding career in the EMS field, this November Charlee is being honored as a “Hero” by the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame!

Tracy Schietinger is no stranger to GEMS. With 26 years of experience in emergency medical services, she has spent the last 10 years at GEMS, most recently as its Director of Operations.

Selected after a nation-wide search, Tracy is a true professional who has earned the respect of GEMS’ staff and Board. Another recent change involves the leadership of our Board. I am humbled and honored that my colleagues elected me last July to serve as the new Chairman of the Board.

In over 30 years of Public-Private partnership, GEMS has consistently provided superior, cost effective emergency medical services to the Greenwich community. GEMS provides 24/7 Advanced Life Support services from four ambulance stations strategically located throughout Town to minimize response times. The proof, however, is truly in the pudding: our “save rate” ranks among the best in the nation.

With all this change, it is helpful to look back on GEMS’ origins. GEMS was established in 1986 by citizens of Greenwich as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

As such, GEMS is not a department or arm of Town government, but rather an independent provider of emergency medical services pursuant to a contract with the Town. This approach was selected after the completion of an extensive, multi-year study into the best solutions for providing superior EMS coverage (which at the time included only Basic Life Support) throughout the Town.

The reasons for adopting this independent, nonprofit approach were both straightforward and compelling: First, to protect the Town from potential legal liability; second, to avoid an increase in the number of Town employees, with their attendant municipal-level retirement and other benefits; and third, to enable funds to be raised through charitable contributions for all capital expenses (e.g., ambulances, support vehicles and related equipment – now closing in on $500,000 annually.)

In this way, as a result of the generosity of the Town’s citizens, since its inception GEMS has saved taxpayers in excess of $8.5 million, $2.3 million in the last five years alone.

In return for these benefits, the Town agreed to pay, as a fee for services rendered, a portion of GEMS’ annual operating costs (patient insurance, training and certain other revenues cover the remainder) pursuant to a negotiated contract, which is currently subject to review and renewal every five years. As part of that contract, GEMS annually presents its estimate of operating costs for the upcoming year to the Town during its regular budget cycle. Those costs are carefully reviewed by the BET and several RTM committees (including Health and Human Services, Town Services and, last year, Transportation), and are then submitted to the full RTM for approval at its regular May budget meeting. We are exceptionally proud that in 9 of the last 11 budget cycles, GEMS’ funding increase has been BELOW town provided guidelines, even as we have absorbed all of our healthcare increases, something Town departments do not do in the budgeting process.

From the beginning, GEMS has been committed to open communication and transparency with Town authorities – and that commitment continues.

GEMS provides quarterly reports regarding its operations and financial performance to the Board of Health, the Town Controller, the First Selectman, the BET and the RTM.

We meet with the Department of Health quarterly to discuss these reports, and at least semi-annually with the BET.

We also respond to various questions submitted to us by BET and RTM members from time to time.

We strive to be as responsive as possible to our various “stakeholders,” although we must be mindful of GEMS’ legal obligations to our patients under the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and to our employees under Connecticut’s Personnel Privacy act, and of the need to preserve our independent status which provides the Town with the benefits noted above.

We cherish our relationship with so many people both within and outside of Town government. This relationship has allowed GEMS to grow over the past 30 years and to deliver award-winning EMS capability with the significantly higher than national average save rate mentioned above. Last year alone, GEMS’ professional and highly trained staff responded to over 6,500 calls and transported 4,361 patients, 58% of whom required Advanced Life Support service.

As we embark on our third decade of changing lives by saving lives, Tracy and I, our outstanding staff, and our board of citizen volunteers, are all committed to maintaining GEMS’ exceptional EMS capabilities, and to being as responsive as possible to Town needs and requests. We are excited to do everything we can to meet and exceed the Town’s expectations, and we thank you, most sincerely, for your continued support.

Jennifer Baldock
Chairman of the Board
Greenwich Emergency Medical Service