The city of Johnstown has purchased an ambulance and received its Certificate of Need to operate an ambulance service, which it plans to start doing by Jan. 1.
“Right now, we’re getting up on our training,” said Johnstown Fire Chief Bruce Heberer. “From the state, our Certificate of Need has been issued. We’re just getting some of the paperwork together with a billing company, doing some more training, getting some more supplies to operate.”
The city in September purchased a 2009 Ford TL Custom ambulance for $35,000 from a dealer in Suffolk County.
“It’s only got 33,000 miles on it,” Heberer said. “That’s unbelievably low mileage for the year [it was built]. Obviously, down there they rotate their ambulances, so when they get to be 10 years old they just get rid of them – it doesn’t matter the mileage on them.”
Johnstown’s goal is to offer a 24-hour ambulance service out of the city’s Fire Department and operated by Fire Department personnel. The Certificate of Need, issued by the state Emergency Medical Services Council, will make Johnstown’s ambulance service the priority responder called inside city limits for emergencies that fit the personnel Johnstown has available at the time of the call.
Heberer explained that there are essentially two types of ambulance calls, Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support [ALS] calls and Basic Life Support [BLS] calls.
To respond to an ALS call, the ambulance service must have a trained paramedic available, of which his department has two, who will work different shifts. Paramedics are qualified to administer drugs and intravenous fluids.
To respond to a BLS call, the ambulance only requires Emergency Medical Technician trained personnel, of which the department has 16. EMTs can administer oxygen, insulin and other more basic care, but not painkilling narcotics.
“Right now we’re going to run ALS when my [paramedic] guys are on duty. We’ll enter into an agreement with JAVAC and the Fulton County Ambulance Service to offer ALS when we can’t,” Heberer said. “We have more people taking paramedic training, which is pretty extensive. We should have more trained by the first or second quarter of 2019. We’re going to try to bring on two to four, but possibly as many as six.”
In June the Johnstown Firefighters Association on voted 12-8 not to participate in the ambulance service project, with 4 members not in attendance. Firefighter Association President Jake Van Every said since the initial negative vote, more Johnstown firefighters have decided to support the venture.
“The chief has met with us; he’s given us some ideas of what he’d like to do with the program. He asked for guys who wanted to participate to sign up, and I think we had roughly three quarters of our membership with signed up to participate,” Van Every said. “Our contract is up in 2020. We have negotiations with the city next year, so this is something we will have to meet with the city about and get some kind of contractual language ironed out, in terms of what’s required of us. Obviously anything that’s required of us in terms of work, would need to be negotiated with the city, as of right now though we’re trying to work with the city to get this program going and do what’s best for the citizens of Johnstown, and then we’ll iron out the details.”
Establishing an ambulance service is an initiative other nearby cities have accomplished in recent years, including the cities of Amsterdam and Glens Falls. If established, Johnstown’s municipal ambulance service would effect the Johnstown Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which is based right across the street from the fire department.
Heberer said its hard to estimate how much revenue the ambulance service could bring into the city. He said the estimated number of annual ambulance calls in the city of Johnstown have fluctuated between 800 and 1,500.
“This is the gamble, you’re paid based on the calls and the calls come as they come,” Heberer said. “It’s really hard to estimate revenues because they are based on the percentages you get back from Medicare, Medicaid and the private insurance billing. There are so many variables there, but we’re doing this with staff we already have, so the expense of staffing that JAVAC and others face we don’t have to worry about.”
Heberer said he expects to provide the city Common Council with a report at the six-month mark in 2019 to show how many calls the service has taken, and what revenues are being received.
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