Greenfield residents should have local ambulance service again within a week, town and county officials said Monday.
The county Public Safety Committee on Monday approved an agreement that will allow Empire Ambulance to start serving the town as its primary ambulance provider.
A dispute over whether Empire should pay for county dispatching costs has left the town without local ambulance coverage since April 1.
Under the agreement, Empire Ambulance will pay the county $5,826 for dispatching service for the rest of the year.
The county will provide Empire with three new radios compatible with the county’s emergency dispatching system, to be installed in Empire’s ambulances.
Ambulances, which are based on the west side of Saratoga Springs, will start serving the town as soon as the radios are installed and drivers trained in using them. That’s expected to happen within a week.
The agreement temporarily resolves a debate about whether the county can charge for-profit ambulance services it dispatches. Empire is the first for-profit ambulance squad to become a primary municipal provider in Saratoga County.
“I think this is a good solution for Empire, a good solution for the county, and a great solution for the town of Greenfield,” said Greenfield Town Supervisor Richard Rowland.
The agreement is only through the rest of the year.
In the interim, the Public Safety Committee will develop a long-term policy for charging to dispatch for-profit ambulances. The county would then draft a local law establishing those fees.
“As of Jan. 1, whether it is Empire or anyone else, there will be a fee schedule in place,” Public Safety Committee Chairman Bill Peck, R-Northumberland, said after the meeting in Ballston Spa.
The county will also seek legal opinions on whether it can charge such fees, given that it doesn’t charge to dispatch nonprofit ambulance organizations.
Many private health insurance plans cover ambulance transportation, and payments for such calls is how Empire makes much of its money. Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor, also pays for ambulance transportation in emergencies.
Among those who must review any county fee plan will be the federal Medicaid inspector general’s office, county officials said.
“There’s a lot involved,” said Rowland, who had been an opponent of any county dispatching fee. “There are already tax dollars that go toward this, there are already grants that go toward this. A bunch of people will weigh in on this.”
Peck said there’s concern that for-profit ambulance companies like Empire could start providing municipal service more often as local nonprofit ambulance groups struggle with finances and membership.
Greenfield hired Empire Ambulance after the dissolution of Saratoga Emergency Medical Services, a nonprofit that went out of business after losing its contract with Saratoga Springs late last year. SEMS had also served Greenfield.
The city Fire Department now provides emergency medical response in Saratoga Springs, but SEMS’ departure left Greenfield without a provider.
Since April 1, ambulances from surrounding communities have responded to all calls in Greenfield as part of a county mutual plan.
“In the short term, my concern has been that those calls were covered by other ambulance corps and that was a strain on them,” Peck said. “Our main concern is always the health, safety and welfare of our residents.”
Rowland said Greenfield, which has about 7,800 residents, generates 350 to 400 emergency medical calls per year and the number is increasing yearly.
The town is growing and its roads becoming busier, leading to more emergency calls, Rowland said. The town is also home to Prestwick Chase, a large senior living complex that generates dozens of medical calls per year.