FULTON COUNTY — The Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps. has been issued a 60-day emergency certificate of need by New York state to take over the territory of the Ambulance Service of Fulton County, which unexpectedly shut down on Friday.
GAVAC Operation Manager Michael “Mickey” Swartz said his ambulance service has been operating five ambulances in Fulton County since Friday under the rules of EMS mutual aide agreements among the different ambulance companies. But now, with the emergency certificate of need, GAVAC can operate throughout Fulton and Hamilton counties.
“We only have licencing for parts of Fulton County, so … now GAVAC will be called for any call that was previously dispatched for the Ambulance Service of Fulton County. If for some reason GAVAC is out of resources, and the system becomes so busy that we don’t have any ambulances left and an emergency call comes in, it will automatically be rerouted to JAVAC or Johnstown fire [ambulance service],” Swartz said.
Ambulance Service of Fulton County shut down when the nonprofit was unable to make its $70,000 bi-weekly payroll, as well as payments or workers compensation insurance and ambulance insurance.
The service laid off 55 of its 60 employees. It is currently seeking a cash infusion of $200,000 or else it faces the probability of dissolving within the next six weeks.
On Friday Steven Santa Maria, the Fulton County emergency management services coordinator, helped put together a coverage plan for Ambulance Service of Fulton County’s territory involving GAVAC deploying five ambulances: two stationed in Gloversville; two staffed by the Johnstown Volunteer Ambulance Corps.; and another by the Johnstown Fire Department.
Santa Maria said the first weekend of the makeshift plan answered 42 ambulance service calls.
Swartz said GAVAC handled 40 of those calls, responding in an average of 6.3 minutes. He said he currently has 10 total ambulances in service between Fulton and Montgomery counties, with 90 EMS personnel on staff. He said GAVAC has hired six of the laid off Ambulance Service of Fulton County [ASFC] employees, and plans to hire more, pending the fate of the shut down ambulance service.
“We definitely want to bring more on board. It’s just a matter of how many. We have to be careful because we only have a 60-day [certificate of need],” he said.
Alan Mendelsohn, vice president of the ASFC Board of Directors, said the service is still hoping to reopen, but it needs to either get a municipal entity to give it some operating funds or partner with another ambulance agency. He said he’s already met with the Rotterdam Volunteer Emergency Medical Corps. and plans to meet with GAVAC and the for-profit Empire Ambulance Service next week.
Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead said county officials met with the state Department of Health on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of the county applying for a certificate of need to operate a countywide ambulance service.
For ambulance services, the certificate of need establishes which agency gets first priority in receiving ambulance calls. Stead said the county hasn’t made any decisions yet, but two potential options might be forming a countywide ambulance service or the county obtaining the certificate of need and contracting with an ambulance agency.
He said members of the county Board of Supervisors will likely discuss the issue at its next Public Safety Committee meeting Feb. 25.
Mendelsohn said the financial strains placed on ambulance services have affected more than just ASFC. He said his service has had a difficult time remaining solvent due in part to a high percentage of ambulance service calls being paid for by Medicaid, a federal program that does not reimburse the total cost of ambulance transportation.
“All of the ambulances are operating paycheck to paycheck right now,” he said.
Mendelsohn has advocated for Fulton County create a taxing district to provide ASFC a permanent funding stream. He said county officials can come and look at ASFC’s financial information at its Gloversville headquarters “anytime they want.”
“I don’t know why they aren’t talking to us,” he said.
GAVAC’s Swartz said if ASFC does not return to operations, GAVAC would probably like to take over the territory permanently.