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Genesee County's move for dedicated ambulance service with Mercy Flight 'a big step'

By Joanne Beck
Gary Maha, Shelley Stein, Matt Landers
Genesee County Legislators Gary Maha and Shelley Stein participate on the Ways & Means Committee Wednesday as County Manager Matt Landers, far right, reviews a new ambulance contract with Mercy Flight. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Discussion of a new Mercy Flight contract for basic and advanced life support services was no big surprise, perhaps, on Wednesday, but was a big step forward nonetheless as the process continued past the Ways & Means Committee, Matt Landers said.

The county manager presented the $452,000 contract to the committee on its last leg of a journey to the full Legislature for approval. 

While neighboring communities take on ambulance services themselves — and the high costs of labor, salaries, benefits, retirement, vehicles and maintenance that goes with it — Landers was pleased that Genesee County will have contracts with two providers (one has already been approved for Le Roy Ambulance Service), and looks forward to working with Mercy Flight, he said. 

“I think that this is a very good step for this Legislature to enter this contract with the county. It's a good step to avoid us having to buy ambulances and hire EMTs and things that our other neighboring counties have had to do because they didn't have a centralized strong entity like we have here in Genesee County,” he said. “And so let's support the private sector solution that's already here. And let them do the job that they're best at doing versus us entering into another business. 

“So I think it's a good contract; it’s something that we'll monitor closely. And I'm sure, once we start, this is something that we’ll be relying on for years, it will be going on for years and years and years, and we'll be discussing increases in future contracts,” he said. “But it's nice to know we've got a fixed amount for three years for strengthening our ambulance service.”

A study was conducted prior to this contract, and it was determined that in order to improve response times, an ambulance would stationed at each the east and west end of the county. 

So one will be placed in Stafford and in East Pembroke, plus Batavia will also have a base, and the new configuration will be monitored over time to see if that helps or if further adjustments need to be made, Landers said.

He pointed to Emergency Management Services Coordinator Tim Yaeger as the one integrally involved in the study and strategy for this plan. Yaeger was not at Wednesday’s meeting, and The Batavian plans to catch up with him in the future to further discuss the county’s contract.

“We were exploring different ways to potentially require certain response times from Mercy Flight. The more we examined it, it was looking to be a challenge because there's always explanations for why a response time might not have been met for a certain case. So overall, we thought that if we just had a deployment coming from Stafford and a deployment coming from East Pembroke, have enough pushing it out further from just being around the time of Batavia, that naturally, the response time should improve,” Landers said. “And it's something that we can monitor every year, per the contract. And if the response times truly are improving, then we made the right decision. If this is not having a material impact on response times in the outer parts of the county, then we will just have to reexamine a different way to have those response times improved.”

So nothing would change for three years?
“Well, I wouldn’t say nothing. But there is a three-year contract. So it's something that we know we can monitor because we have a relationship with Mercy Flight directly now. So it's something that we're going to have a close eye on because we want to make sure that we're investing taxpayer money into this venture, we want to make sure we're getting some improved response times from it,” he said. “I suppose that if there was a mutually agreeable alternative aid contract, we could engage in that certainly, but right now, we're hoping that over the next three years, we'll see a better response time from having these deployments from outside the town of Batavia. 

"Well, I want to emphasize they're still ambulances in Batavia. So, we are not looking to improve response times to the town at the expense of people here in Batavia,” he said.

Of the total $452,000, $375,000 will go for personnel salaries and benefits, and the remaining $77,000 is for training and education, Landers said. 

“That amount is for education. So one of the things that was expressed to us was that sometimes when people are going through a lengthy training process for EMT, they're going through training, and they're not getting paid,” he said. “And that's difficult for people and with families, and to make ends meet. So this would allow them to get paid while getting trained.”

The contract begins Jan. 1, 2024, and it is competitive within this region, he said.

“So I ran into a Mercy Flight person who said, ‘Yeah, I hear that when I’m working in Genesee County, I get a bigger rate.’ So the word’s out there because if that’s the stipulation, we don’t want Mercy Flight to be paying people in another county with these monies. So what they’re paying their people here is gonna be higher based on this contract,” he said. “It holds their feet to the fire a little bit more than we’ve ever had that ability to pass because they operated here without the contract between us and them. So this puts into place some expectations.”

The new setup is to “improve response time without hurting response time,” he said. 

A legislator wanted to know what would happen if there was a request for an ambulance and there wasn’t enough staff on duty to ensure the minimum staffing level. 

Mercy EMS won’t be able to take a voluntary transport if it jeopardizes that minimum staffing expectation of the county, per this new contract, Landers said. “It may be a longer delay."

The contract will go from Jan. 1, 2024, to Dec. 31, 2026, for $452,460 per year.

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