The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Emergency Corps has started providing ambulance service in Mechanicville, part of a transition brought on by the declining finances of the city’s John H. Ahearn Jr. Rescue Squad.
The switch in who responds to emergency calls in the city went into effect about 10 days ago, following state Health Department approval of an arrangement the two corps negotiated last summer.
Under the agreement, the $170,000 per year the city has given Ahearn will go instead to the Clifton Park-Halfmoon agency, and a Clifton Park ambulance will be based in the city. The John Ahearn squad is out of business and will be disbanding.
“We’re very supportive of this transaction,” city Accounts Commissioner Mark Seber said. “Smaller EMS and rescue squads are struggling financially, and Ahearn isn’t any different from most of them.”
The Ahearn squad last week filed paperwork with state Supreme Court in Ballston Spa to liquidate the 60-year-old nonprofit organization, which has provided ambulance coverage in Mechanicville and neighboring Hemstreet Park since 1954.
The squad had seen its number of volunteer EMTs decline in recent years, and the payments and reimbursements it received were falling short of the $300,000 per year cost of its paid emergency medical staff.
“We only had five or six volunteers left. We just couldn’t do it anymore,” said John Ahearn Rescue Squad President Larry Whalen, a 55-year member of the squad.
The arrangement to transfer responsibility to the much larger Clifton Park-Halfmoon corps was first approved by the two agencies last summer, around the same time as a separate transaction was merging the Malta and Stillwater ambulance corps, with Malta permanently staffing Stillwater’s station.
More such mergers — in which the smaller squads go out of business — are likely, said Mike MacEvoy, Saratoga County’s EMS coordinator.
“In the county as a whole, the call volume is declining,” MacEvoy said Monday. “I think a smaller agency sees that much more than a larger agency does. They just get to the point where it’s sort of hard to make ends meet.”
Countywide, he said there were 33,177 emergency medical calls in 2013, down from 34,186 the year before.
“Since 2008, it’s been declining 2 to 4 percent per year,” he said.
The downtrend is seen nationwide, MacEvoy said, apparently because the public is realizing the high cost of calling an ambulance and seeking care through hospital emergency rooms, and is instead using doctors and urgent care centers more.
Fewer calls translates into less insurance reimbursement, straining the finances of small squads that once had volunteer staffs, but now largely rely on paid professional EMTs.
“I think you’ll see some other mergers like this over the next few years,” said MacEvoy, who is also an EMT with the Clifton Park-Halfmoon corps.
Clifton Park-Halfmoon is one of the county’s busiest emergency squads, responding to about 5,400 calls per year from its headquarters near the Clifton Park-Halfmoon town line. It will add about 1,200 or so more calls by serving Mechanicville.
For now, a Clifton Park-Halfmoon ambulance is serving the city from a fire station on Route 4 & 32 in Halfmoon, but plans are to move an ambulance into an old fire station in the city.
At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the city will open bids to sell its closed Depot Square fire station. The ambulance corps is expected to be a bidder, and if successful will renovate the building and station an ambulance there around-the-clock. The City Council could approve a sale at its regular meeting on Wednesday.
“It’s a win-win for everybody, it really is,” Seber said.
The Clifton Park-Halfmoon corps has agreed to freeze the city’s payment at $170,000 per year for the next five years, Seber said. “It gives us some financially stability over the next five years.”
Assuming a judge approves dissolution of the Ahearn squad, the Clifton Park-Halfmoon corps will purchase its two ambulance and other assets for $78,775, a figure set through an appraisal.