The Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps on Wednesday announced it will be renamed Lake Valley EMS and has applied for regulatory approval to be purchased by a private equity firm.
GAVAC Executive Director Thomas Pasquarelli said the new Lake Valley EMS will become a part of Priority Ambulance service, a group of for-profit ambulance companies owned and operated by Enhanced Healthcare Partners, a private equity firm. He said GAVAC has applied for approval from the New York State Attorney General’s office, and the New York State Dept. of Health to transfer its Certificate of Need, its license to operate in different geographic territories, including Fulton and Montgomery counties.
GAVAC received state approval to expand into Fulton County in 2019 after the abrupt shut down of the Ambulance Service of Fulton County. Pasquarelli said the expansion of GAVAC’s territory was instrumental in attracting the interest of Priority Ambulance and other entities interested in purchasing nonprofit ambulance businesses.
“When Fulton County collapsed we had a number of agencies reach out to us, and when they saw us succeeding in Fulton County, obviously, that piques the interest of anybody,” Pasquarelli said. “We grew substantially in literally nine hours and we doubled the size of the company. We started to re-evaluate what we were going to do, and we looked at rebranding, and all sorts of different things as an organization because we no longer just served the greater Amsterdam area, now we served two and a half counties, and a lot of square miles.”
According to its website, priorityambulance.com, the business was started in 2014 and currently has ambulance operations in 13 states and, “has twice made Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies in America.”
Pasquarelli said he and other people involved in the leadership of GAVAC have signed nondisclosure agreements that prohibit him from revealing the cost of the acquisition during the regulatory approval phase of the purchase, but he said those figures will be included in the filing for GAVAC’s next 990 nonprofit tax form. He said one of the deal’s provisions includes GAVAC continuing to exist as a nonprofit corporation and retaining ownership of the ambulance service’s real estate property, including locations in Amsterdam, Fonda, Fort Plain and Broadalbin.
“At a meeting of its employees on Wednesday, leadership unveiled the new company name, logo and branding that will be rolled out to all ambulances, emergency vehicles and uniforms,” reads a news release from Pasquarelli released Wednesday. “Employees within the system will see little day-to-day operational change. All current employees of GAVAC will be offered positions within the system and years of service will continue to be recognized for pay and seniority. Current Executive Director Thomas Pasquarelli, who has dedicated 30 years at GAVAC, will continue to lead Lake Valley EMS as director of operations.”
Steven Santa Maria, the Fulton County emergency management services coordinator, sent out an email Wednesday explaining what he had been told about the Priority Ambulance acquisition.
“Per both GAVAC Management and Priority Ambulance Management, nothing is going to change locally,” wrote Santa Maria. “GAVAC Management will stay the same. GAVAC Operations will stay the same. Dispatching will stay the same. We were assured this will be a “seamless” transition.”
Santa Maria explained his understanding of the name change.
“GAVAC will also be changing their name to Lake Valley EMS. Fulton County has 44 Lakes; that’s the ‘Lake’ part. Montgomery County is in a valley; that’s the ‘Valley’ part,” wrote Santa Maria. “Hopefully, this will be a positive thing for Fulton County. Fulton County Emergency Management will continue to monitor this change. As always we need to know of any problems, delays, etc.”
Pasquarelli said the name change to Lake Valley EMS probably would have happened irrespective of the acquisition from Priority Ambulance.
Pasquarelli noted being part of a larger company should provide savings for the ambulance operation in the form of better economies of scale for equipment and supply, as well as enhanced human resources personnel and other forms of support not currently available to GAVAC. He said neither he nor GAVAC board members have been invited to become members of Priority Ambulance’s board of directors.
Santa Maria said Fulton County has never been primarily served by a for-profit ambulance service, and there are fewer ambulance companies in Fulton County than in the past.
Initially after the ASFC shutdown, the now-defunct Johnstown Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps and GAVAC had worked together as part of a patchwork of ambulance services assembled to cover the territory. During that time, Nathan Littauer Hospital inked a non-binding agreement with JAVAC for it to provide for the hospital’s transfer calls, but GAVAC disputed whether JAVAC had the authority to be the primary service for those calls, asking the Adirondack-Appalachian Regional Emergency Medical Service Council to rule on the issue.
JAVAC ultimately shut down before a ruling was ever made, leaving GAVAC in sole control of the hospital calls. At the time, both GAVAC and JAVAC told authorities the revenue from the hospital calls was vital for them to remain financially viable in Fulton County.
Santa Maria said county officials have been exploring ways to obtain “oversight” of the ambulance activities within its county.
“That’s been in discussions for quite some time, but COVID-19 has set us back almost a whole year now,” he said. “I’m not really at liberty to say what they are yet right now, those are kind of confidential talks we’re having behind closed doors.”
Pasquarelli said GAVAC has been providing coverage to Fulton and Montgomery counties and parts of Hamilton County with 14 ambulances and four “fly-cars” which are paramedic-staffed emergency vehicles without transport capabilities. He said he does not believe the ambulance coverage will change under the control of Priority Ambulance.