New Ambulance Boat Sunk by Lack of Funding

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The aging St. John ambulance boat. St. John Tradewinds News Photo by Eliza Magro

The V.I. Legislature last week supported a bill proposed by Senator Alvin Williams to appropriate $700,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund for a new ambulance boat, but the bill was held in the Finance Committee once it was discovered that the St. John Capital Improvement Fund is already committed to pay for the island’s garbage disposal.

The current ambulance boat, the 16-year-old Star of Life, was donated to the V.I. Health Department in 1991. The boat reportedly went on an average of 14 calls per month in the last fiscal year, according to Health Commissioner Vivian Ebbesen-Fludd’s testimony before the Legislature.

The Star of Life is used to transport patients from St. John to St. Thomas who are in need of greater medical care than can be provided at the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center. St. John resident Jessica Richards, who has been transported to St. Thomas via the Star of Life several times, believes it’s time for a new ambulance boat.

Hour and a Half Wait for Transport
“My baby was born in September of last year, and apparently the Star of Life was down,” said Richards. “They contracted a water taxi, which took an hour and a half to get to St. John to transport me to St. Thomas to give birth. I have high risk pregnancies, so it was not a fun wait.”

Another experience Richards had recently with the Star of Life further highlighted the need for a new ambulance boat.

“Two weeks ago, my father needed emergency surgery, and just looking around at that boat on our way over to St. Thomas, I realized it’s a mess and it needs to go,” said Richards. “It’s falling apart, and it’s old. It’s really scary.”

Emergency Medical Services Association President Carol Beckowitz previously expressed her concern over the condition of the nearly two decades old ambulance boat. While the boat has enough room to carry more than one patient at once, the condition of the vessel is cause for worry, she explained.

“The issue is not that the boat won’t carry enough patients,” said Beckowitz. “The problem is we have a boat becoming less and less safe to carry any patients.”

New Boat To Cost $775,000
Even if the current ambulance boat received a complete overhaul, it would be expensive and ineffective, according to EMS Association member Captain Liston Sprauve.

“The boat is old and deteriorating in some areas, and the engines are almost worn out,” said Sprauve. “Even if this boat is repaired, it’s still going to be inadequate. To get this boat back in really good condition will cost anywhere from $125,000, and even once you spend a lot of money, you still have an inadequate boat when you’re through.”

The cost of building a new ambulance boat large enough to transport four people is reportedly estimated at $775,000.