With the town of Greenfield now without full ambulance service for nearly six weeks, county officials are meeting behind closed doors to try to resolve the situation.
The Public Safety and Law and Finance committees of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors have both held lengthy executive sessions this week on a dispute over whether the town’s new private ambulance service, Empire Ambulance, should pay the county for dispatching it on emergency calls.
Another Public Safety Committee meeting has been scheduled for Monday, in hopes of reaching a resolution that can be presented to county supervisors at their monthly meeting Tuesday in Ballston Spa.
“We need to come to an agreement in short order,” said Public Safety Chairman Bill Peck, R-Northumberland. “We need to not wait another month to continue the discussion.”
The committee meetings have been closed on the grounds the members were discussing negotiating a town-county contract — a legitimate reason for excluding the public.
The majority of the committee favors imposing a per-call fee on Empire, a private, for-profit ambulance service that already has an ambulance based in Saratoga Springs. The town of Greenfield, however, maintains its residents are paying county taxes for dispatching services and charging an additional fee on top of that is inappropriate.
“I think a fee structure for services that are already part of the tax structure is an error,” said Greenfield town Supervisor Richard Rowland.
Empire Ambulance is the only for-profit emergency corps currently contracted to provide primary coverage for a Saratoga County town, but Peck said there’s concern that it could start happening more often, as local, non-profit ambulance corps struggle with finances and membership.
Greenfield hired Empire Ambulance to serve the town after the collapse of Saratoga Emergency Medical Services, which folded after losing its contract with Saratoga Springs late last year. SEMS had also served Greenfield.
The city Fire Department now provides first emergency medical response in Saratoga Springs, but that left Greenfield — which had also used SEMS — without a provider.
Currently, the county sheriff’s dispatching center isn’t dispatching Empire until the fee question is resolved. But Rowland said the town is making good on its contract to pay Empire $33,000 for coverage for the rest of the year. (Empire also gets any insurance payments for providing service on individual calls.)
Since April 1, Greenfield’s 7,800 residents have been getting emergency coverage through the county mutual aid system. That means ambulances from Corinth, Wilton or Ballston Spa are being called when there’s a medical emergency in Greenfield. That means an ambulance is often coming farther than when SEMS was providing the coverage.
“I’ve heard response time is good, but I really can’t speak to it one way or the other,” Rowland said.
Peck said he’s been told by service providers that the mutual aid arrangement is working for now, “but it’s a strain.”
Peck said the county’s first priority is resolving the situation with Greenfield, but the Public Safety Committee will then work on developing a more general policy that wouldn’t take effect until January and would apply if the situation arises in the future.