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Charity can no longer provide ‘something for nothing’

The St John Ambulance service is so short of funds that it can no longer provide medical support at public events unless it is guaranteed a donation.

The charity is on hand to provide emergency medical treatment and an ambulance service at many public events free of charge, with medical professionals volunteering their time and expertise.

It costs $250 just to get an ambulance on the road and as a result the organisation is haemorrhaging funds. While organisations that ask the service to attend their events will often make a donation, that rarely covers the charity's basic expenses.

Yesterday St John Ambulance Commissioner Stephen Gunn said that the service was in “dire financial straits”, and that in future it will only be able to cover a public event if it can be assured that it will receive a donation in return.

Mr Gunn said that only two of the charity's five ambulances were roadworthy — and that these were often loaned out to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, which is struggling to maintain its own fleet of ambulances. Last week The Royal Gazette reported that the hospital's four ambulances, which are just four years old, are being decommissioned because of repeated mechanical failure and the Bermuda Hospitals Board is having to rely on St John Ambulance to provide emergency backup.

“St John Ambulance is a charity organisation, and like many other charities in Bermuda, we are suffering from lack of finances,” Mr Gunn said.

“All of our medical staff are volunteers, and therefore they donate all of their time to St John. We have doctors, nurses, EMTs, advanced medic responders and first-aiders, and each of them work for free.

“However, the cost for putting an ambulance on the road is a minimum of $250 each time. This includes supplies, licensing and insurance for the vehicle as well as liability insurance and upkeep of the vehicles.”

Mr Gunn said that his two newest ambulances are now nine and 12 years old but they “spend most of the time supporting the hospital”.

“Of the other three, one is essentially too large to be used as a response vehicle and was purchased/donated to act as a medical mobile base. Another was selected as a handicap transportation vehicle, which can accommodate wheelchairs and multiple stretchers, but the hydraulic lift is broken and I can't afford to fix it. The last one is defective to the point of being on blocks in the back yard and is beyond repair.”

Mr Gunn added that the organisation has additional expenses, such as the running of its Point Finger Road office, and has also had to “chase organisations down for a promised payment after the fact”, which has led to additional costs.

“For many years St John ambulance has asked for donations to cover community events, and many times we are given a donation,” Mr Gunn said.

“However, many times we are not. St John Ambulance has supported events, that have lasted more than a week, ten hours a day with multiple ambulances, for less than a $300 total donation.

“Knowing the need for, and likelihood of, requiring medical assistance, we have traditionally volunteered without remuneration. Unfortunately we are not able to continue like this, and must ask for something in return.”

Mr Gunn acknowledged that many organisations that used St John Ambulance were charities which were themselves struggling financially.

He pointed out that the organisation did not expect to be paid the full cost of covering an event and that it would not charge for its services, but some financial compensation was necessary.

“We ask for your help — it doesn't have to be much but it does have to be something,” he said. “If one organisation donates money for their event and another does not, whom should we support?”

“St John Ambulance does not charge for attendance at events, we ask for a donation to cover our costs, and provide a figure as to what those costs would be for us.

“There is no other medical service in Bermuda capable of providing the care that we provide at community events at the weekly constant rate that we provide them.

“We are asking for the community's help to keep our organisation alive. We are asking for sponsors and event organisers to understand that, without financial support, we have no fleet, and no supplies, and with no fleet or supplies we will not be able to attend events.”

St John Ambulance Commissioner Stephen Gunn

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Published October 31, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 30, 2013 at 11:41 pm)

Charity can no longer provide ‘something for nothing’

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