The Recorder

GAVAC supports city’s ambulance service push

File Photo A GAVAC response vehicle parked outside of St. Mary's Hospital.

File Photo
A GAVAC response vehicle parked outside of St. Mary’s Hospital.

By JOHN PURCELL
Recorder News Staff

Amsterdam’s longtime ambulance service provider isn’t looking to battle with the city as local officials eye shifting the service in-house.

Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps Operations Manager Mickey Swartz said the organization has decided to support the city’s efforts to have the Amsterdam Fire Department provide ambulance services. He said that GAVAC’s contract with the city hasn’t been particularly lucrative and the organization has lost more than $300,000 over the last two years.

“From a business standpoint it just doesn’t make any sense for us to continue in the path that we’re going because we have a contract with the city that costs several thousands of dollars every year to do this mutual EMS scenario,” Swartz said, For us to continue to pay for that contract every year just financially is hurting us.”

Swartz said what the organization pays the city based on a percentage of the amount of billable calls and the level of services provided. GAVAC ends up paying between $120,000 to $130,000.

Swartz said GAVAC would not be abandoning the city, because it would continue to provide mutual aid for any calls city firefighters could not cover. He said the contract will expire with Amsterdam if the fire department takes over as the primary ambulance service provider.

AFD has served as the primary responder for emergency medical services but the city had contracted with GAVAC to provide ambulance services.

“We just hope for a great working relationship with them,” Swartz said.

He said GAVAC does not foresee any layoffs occurring within the organization if the city becomes the primary ambulance service provider. GAVAC serves all of Montgomery County and provides mutual aid to surrounding counties.

“We may lose 15 to 20 percent of the call volume, but that’s not going to hurt us in the big picture,” Swartz said.

Aldermen have been looking into the possibility of starting the in-house service likely during the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Third Ward Alderman Chad Majewski is scheduled to hold a Public Safety Committee meeting Thursday at 6 p.m., which will outline the next steps after the charter is revised and provide additional information. Majewski said residents are welcome to attend the meeting and ask questions about the proposal.

The Amsterdam Common Council introduced a local law last week amending the city charter to allow the Amsterdam Fire Department to operate an ambulance service. The proposed amendment, if approved, would overturn a prior referendum vote.

The charter was changed after the public voted in 2004 to prohibit the fire department from operating an ambulance service.

In August, Corporation Counsel William Lorman determined a public referendum was not required to amend the charter.

Former Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis came to the same determination in 2015 when former Mayor Ann Thane proposed transitioning the ambulance service to the fire department. The proposal was eventually voted down by the council, but DeCusatis said at the time the change does not fall under the guidelines established in the General Municipal Law governing referendums.

The Amsterdam Fire Department has a certificate of need to be a first responder in the city from the state Department of Health, but it would need to file for a certificate of need to provide medical transportation services as an ambulance provider. The certificate of need to operate an ambulance in the city would need to be renewed bi-annually.

Amsterdam Fire Chief Michael Whitty had said no additional staffing would be required to operate one ambulance, which the city is looking to do at the moment.

The city fire department has 25 paramedics on staff, with the remaining seven crew members being basic emergency medical technicians. Whitty does not anticipate any significant increase in overtime by adding the ambulance service, with the department operating four eight-man shifts.