NEW LEBANON–Suppose you called 911 and nobody responded?
That scenario, though unlikely, is one possibility January 1 for residents of New Lebanon and those who live in the part of Canaan designated as Ambulance District #1. They are currently served by the Lebanon Valley Protective Association (LVPA) rescue squad. The squad learned in February that as a part of a fire company, it may not bill for its services, something it had been doing for years. Squad officials apprised the two towns that they had ceased billing but could not continue the service past the end of the year unless the towns picked up the $100,000 shortfall in the squad’s budget created by the restriction on billing.
At this point the squad plans to disband, and LVPA Board member Christopher Steadman told The Columbia Paper this week that there are four ambulance providers, two non-profit (Valatie and Greenport) and two for-profit (Empire and Northern Dutchess), that have expressed interest in providing service on January 1, when the LVPA will exhaust its funds. All these services offer Advanced Life Support rather than the Basic Life Support service provided by LVPA.
Mr. Steadman said there is no possibility that the present LVPA rescue squad could operate separately from the fire department, which it would have to do if the squad wanted to resume billing. The start-up costs for a new ambulance would be high, he said, and there is no longer “a nucleus of people who could have spun it off.” The ambulance has two volunteer emergency medical technicians and one volunteer driver now, he said; the rest are paid staff.
“Once upon a time,” he said, “the fire service provided pre-hospital emergency care.” Then the care fell under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health, “and that changed things. You don’t see volunteer medics. For Advanced Life Support you have to have paramedics, and I don’t know of anyone who is fielding volunteer paramedics.” And the decline in the number of volunteer drivers and EMTs has forced the squad to hire staff.
No matter who takes over providing the ambulance, the volume of calls for the area served is not sufficient to cover the costs of running the service. “I don’t know what the population base is to make the volume of calls profitable, but it’s more than the 4,000 or so in New Lebanon and Canaan,” Mr. Steadman said.
If a new provider requires temporary quarters, the LVPA stands ready to help. “It could be at the firehouse–not for free, because there’s electricity and heat,” he said, but he stressed that eventually a new squad would have to have its own place.
The towns are only beginning to interview the four ambulance providers. New Lebanon set up a committee at its May 10 Town Board meeting. In addition to new quarters, there is also a requirement for a 90-day notice period prior to transferring what is called the certificate of need, the approval for a squad to operate. With all that, some officials are concerned it may not be possible for a new provider to begin service January 1.
But if the transfer isn’t in place by January 1, Mr. Steadman said the LVPA squad is ready to continue providing coverage on a month-to-month basis “if we’re funded.”
The local squad has asked for assurances of that funding from the towns by June 1. “We can’t wait until budget time,” he said. “There’s no point in our working on a budget, when we aren’t going to continue to provide the service.” So far, the towns have not responded.
The LVPA stands ready to help, he said, “That’s been our driving goal, to keep an ambulance service. Who’s doing it is secondary.” ‘
Although he said discussions with towns have been “slow going” since the squad notified tem of the situation in February, in his view things are now headed in a positive direction. Now, he said, community members “should impress upon their elected officials that they think an ambulance is important.”