Highland County Discusses Options and Models for Rescue Squad’s Future


In an age of declining time and volunteers, The Highland County Board of Supervisors is considering how to move forward to sustain the county’s rescue squad services.  The board met with several professionals before their regular budget work session on March 15, 2017 to discuss potential models and “out of the box” options.  These professionals included Chad Blosser, Executive Director of Central Shenandoah Emergency Medical Services, Dr. Asher Brand, the Augusta Emergency Physicians Operating Medical Director for Highland County Volunteer’s Rescue Squad, and Chris Vernovai, Highland County’s first paid career EMS Coordinator that assists with the volunteer squad.

Dr. Brand had high remarks for Highland County’s Rescue Squad, stating that in his opinion, it was the most functional all-volunteer rescue squad in the region and improvements have been made.  Still, EMS services are changing, and Highland County does not have what almost every other jurisdiction has: a separate, government-run EMS agency.  The county will more than likely have to create such an agency.

Dr. Brand stated that from a medical perspective, it would be ideal to have two to three advanced Emergency Medical Technicians who could commit to covering a schedule in order to have a provider at that level all the time.  The EMTs could have duel roles.  The supervisors stressed that funding such positions would be difficult for Highland County, since looking at paid staff would mean a significant tax increase.  Personal property taxes are Highland’s major revenue stream to pay for all county services.  State funding was discussed as limited, with no general fund allocation, but instead a percentage funneled to EMS from six and a quarter dollars for every license plate registration.

Other Virginia counties struggling with the same problems were looked at.  In looking at Rockingham County and Augusta County, it was shown that either an agency fails, so the county has to come in and take over to provide service, or the county provides supplements to build up volunteers.  There are labor laws and regulations to be considered, but the board discussed following a model similar to Augusta County.  It may be possible for Highland County to create an agency, with the rescue squad also creating an agency.  With two different EMT entities, a single person could volunteer at one, yet work at the other.  This could be a way forward to reimburse some squad members on an on-call basis.  There were several other models discussed, ranging from working financially with neighboring counties to reduce on-call volunteer hours through the transfer of patients between Highland County and Augusta County’s hospital, to reaching out to retired folks for vehicle retrieval on certain occasions.

Right now, the rescue squad is trying to boost the amount of volunteers it has.  Currently, Andrew Shell, who is Highland’s lead advisor and squad captain, stated that a youth recruitment campaign committee has been formed and is working on getting involved in the school.  A grant was also submitted to the Highland Youth Philanthropy Council asking for assistance to send two advisors and three junior members to Virginia Tech for an education program that helps younger individuals get started in the basics of EMS.  There may also be options to tie in class credits with EMS-related curriculum.

The board is also quick to note that whatever model, or models, that are chosen to be emulated within the rescue squad will have to be looked at in a similar way in regards to the fire department.

In conclusion, Dr. Brand stressed that a focus on patient care helps avoid politics.  As advanced care in the area yields lives, it is worth the investment.

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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