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July 20, 2009 - 6:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in taxes, Le Roy, ambulance.

Town and village residents in Le Roy are being asked to consider a new tax for 2010 to help support its local ambulance service, which has been running at a deficient in recent years.

The tax would help offset an anticipated $25,000 shortfall in 2010.

"In order for us to continue to operate in the community, we need tax support," said Bob Boyce, president of the Le Roy Ambulance Service board of directors. "We're only asking for a minimal amount, but if the town residents object and don't allow the tax, the alternative is for us to close the doors."

Boyce said the service is being squeezed by increasing costs and declining revenue from reimbursements from Medicaid and Medicare.

While donations might help, Boyce said even in the best years, the 38-year-old ambulance service raised only $20,000 in contributions.

There will be a public hearing within weeks on the proposal.

Under current state law, it is up to the town to create a tax district and then the village board can enact a local law to extend its authority into the village.

If only the town enacts the new tax, it would mean an addition 12.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about an average of $14.43 per property. If both the town and village adopt the tax, the rate would be 6.5 cents per thousand, or $7.50 annually on each tax bill.

As the new ground ambulance service being set up by Mercy Flight, Boyce expressed concern that with all the ambulances being based in Batavia, the service won't be able to match the under-five-minute response times of the current Le Roy service. He said it takes 10 to 20 minutes for an ambulance from Batavia to respond to a Le Roy call.

At one time, the Le Roy service was staffed entirely by volunteers, but over the years, the organization has relied more and more on paid professionals, either in terms of its own full-time staff (two people) or a rotation of professionals who live in the area, work on a per-diem basis while maintaining full-time jobs with commercial ambulance services.  There are still 4 or 5 volunteers with the service, Boyce said.

The service generates nearly $400,000 annually insurance billing to help support its operations.

The proposal was presented to the town board on June 25. (We'll get back to you on the date of the public hearing).

PDF: Map, Plan and Report for the Establishment of an Ambulance District

Audio: Portion of an interview with Bob Boyce

July 15, 2009 - 9:03am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, genesee county, Mercy Flight, ambulance.

Employees of Mercy Flight's ground ambulance service in Genesee County can expect to be held to high standards, CEO Douglas H. Baker told a gathering of local leaders last night in a meeting the Fire Training Center.

"I'll probably be in Genesee County more than you want to see me," Baker said. "I'll be here nearly every day. I'm going to make sure that this is either done my way, or it's not going to be done at all. We're not going to be embarrassed."

Baker made it clear that Mercy Flight employees will be expected to be professional, compassionate, courteous and enthusiastic. He said while the job is hard at times and enthusiasm can wane, he expects employees to reflect his enthusiasm for the profession.

"When our crews respond, they will be kind and responsive," Baker said. "If they're not, I don't care how good of an EMT they are, they're not going to work for us."

Baker said he expects the level of service in the county to be the same or better under Mercy Flight.

The organization has ordered four new ambulances that are in production now.

While it remains Mercy Flight's goal to retain as many city ambulance service personnel as possible, all potential employees will need to pass a background check and make it through an interview process.

"We're not going to hire somebody just because they're working now," Baker said.

But he also assured leaders that the new service will seem very familiar to them because they will see a lot of familiar faces and many of the same policies and practices that current personnel are using will remain in place.

"In general we will keep doing what you've been doing for all these years, unless you want us to change," Baker said. "We intend not to change, not even the people."

Indicating that Mercy Flight's goal is to be responsive to community concerns, Baker said that if officials aren't happy with anything that Mercy Flight is doing, it's their responsibility to make sure Mercy Flight managers or executives know about the problems so they can be addressed.

Ambulances will be based at UMMC North Street, UMMC Bank Street and at the airport, with another kept on standby. If it proves that that configuration isn't working for the community, and the statistics back up any issues identified, Mercy Flight will move ambulances to new bases as needed. And if necessary, Mercy Flight will add a fourth, or even a fifth crew, if it turns out more resources are needed to meet guaranteed response times.

"I don't want to be making decisions about where the ambulances should be," Baker said. "I want the community to decide where the ambulances should be."

Each municipality is being asked to sign a contract with Mercy Flight, but if officials from a particular town or city don't sign, Mercy Flight will still respond to emergencies in those communities. The only difference is the local leaders will not be able to hold Mercy Flight to guaranteed response times.

"I'm thrilled for an opportunity for a contract," said Town of Batavia Supervisor Greg Post after the meeting.  "I think they carry the greatest degree of professionalism. And I'm pleased there's another step in getting government out of the ambulance business."

Batavia City Councilman Sam Baron also said he feels good about Mercy Flight coming into Batavia. He said city residents can feel confident that the level of ambulance service under Mercy Flight will be just the same as what they've had in the past.

AUDIO: After the meeting, I recorded a separate interview with Mr. Baker.

July 10, 2009 - 10:08pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Mercy Flight, ambulance.

Mercy Flight announced job openings tonight, thanks to its new ground ambulance service, which is scheduled to start serving Genesee County Sept. 1.

We received the following announcement from Wade Schwab with Mercy Flight at 9 p.m.:

Mercy EMS, a ground ambulance service operated by Mercyflight of Western N.Y.  is seeking qualified individuals to fill numerous job opportunities.

The company will be providing ambulance service to all of Genesee County as of September 1st.

The positions will be EMT's, paramedics, paramedic shift supervisors and dispatchers.

There will be open job fairs at the Mercyflight Batavia base at 4781 E. Saile  Dr. Batavia on Wednesday 07/15 and Thursday 07/16 from 6pm until 8pm and on Saturday 07/18 from 9am until 11am.

Anyone interested in these local job opportunities is welcome to attend one  of the sessions.

We'll need to wait until Monday to talk with officials with Mercy Flight to see how the open hiring and job fairs squares with statements previously indicating the organization was looking to hire many, if not all, of Batavia's ambulance personnel.

May 23, 2009 - 8:28am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, ambulance.

Apparently, a quality organization like Mercy Flight taking over the ambulance service in the county and expressing a desire to hire all of the city ambulance employees isn't enough for union president Greg Ireland. He wants his pound of flesh, too.

The union has filed a "improper practices claim" against the city for an alleged Taylor Law violation in deciding to discontinue the city-backed ambulance service.

The claim is, the city has taken steps to "subcontract" the ambulance jobs by discontinuing the city service.

"Our stance hasn't changed," Ireland said Friday. "The city can't do what they're doing because of the Taylor Law. The city took the steps to change (ambulance service) without negotiating" with the union, he said.

Ireland said a change in ambulance service can't be made legally.

"And it's not going to be if we can help it," he said. "This could have been avoided but the city never approached us. It's too bad it's come to this."

Charlie Mallow said he doesn't believe there is a Taylor Law violation.

But are we to understand from Mallow that the city doesn't intend to sign a contract with Mercy Flight:

"It's something we've discontinued. We are not signing an agreement with whomever the county has selected," he said. "Unions file grievances. This makes it difficult to do what is fiscally prudent." (emphasis added)

So who will provide city ambulance service? Is the union tactic forcing the city into a position where it can't contract with Mercy Flight?

It looks like the fight isn't over. It's just move from one ring to another.

May 22, 2009 - 10:06am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, genesee county, Mercy Flight, ambulance.

Mercy Flight, which won the nod of the Genesee County Ambulance Task Force, intends to buy the existing city ambulances, according to Vice President and CFO Margie Ferrentino.

City ambulance staff will also be given an opportunity to work for the new service. They will have to go through a pre-employment screening process, but Ferrentino indicated it's Mercy Flight's preference to retain existing staff when possible.

Ferrentino also said this morning that even though the not-for-profit Mercy Flight has not operated street ambulance services before, the leadership and staff of Mercy Flight has hundreds of years of cumulative experience in the ambulance business.

The organization is planning to base two ambulances on North Street and one at the airport.

Here is a four-minute audio interview with Ferrentino.

Ferrentino also supplied two documents outlining the experience of CEO Douglas H. Baker and the rest of the senior staff.

UPDATE: Here's a three-minute audio interview with CEO Doug Baker. Baker says how excited Mercy Flight is to get the opportunity to serve Genesee County with ground ambulance service and notes that there will be local residents on the board of directors. Current Batavia ambulance personnel are their first choice to join the new service. "We hope that all of them will come on board," Baker said.

UPDATE II: Tim Yaeger, coordinator for Emergency Management Services, and head of the task force discusses the Mercy Flight selection in this audio interview. He said he's happy the long process has come to an end. He said Mercy Flight came out on top because the organization clearly understands Genesee County, with its unique needs due to having an urban area and very rural areas.

May 22, 2009 - 6:21am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, ambulance.

Officials will announce today that Mercy Flight -- which currently is not in the ground ambulance business -- is the preferred choice of the Genesee County Ambulance Task Force to take over ambulance service for the county.

In a press released obtained by The Batavian prior to its official release to the media, officials state:

The Task Force recommends to local governments and fire districts Mercy Flight, Inc. as the preferred vendor for ambulance services in Genesee County. Mercy Flight, Inc. will operate three Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances, one Basic Life Support (BLS) ambulance and a Paramedic Fly Car 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will maintain two additional ambulances in reserve status. Their operation will be based in Batavia and will provide services to all municipal jurisdictions and fire districts in Genesee County.
The Task Force will continue to assist all parties involved with the conversion process to assure a relatively seamless transition when the city of Batavia ends ambulance service on Aug. 31.

A person associated with the Batavia ambulance service also e-mailed us about the Mercy Flight selection and said, "Hopefully it will be a good fit. We just have to wait for the fine details before we throw a party."

Other companies considered in the request-for-proposal process were Monroe Ambulance, Rural Metro Medical Services and TLC Emergency Medical Services, Inc..

UPDATE: From Mercy Flight's "About Us" page:

Mercy Flight WNY is an independent, not-for-profit provider of emergency air medical transport. We ensure rapid, safe and cost effective delivery of expert emergency response teams. Established in 1981, Mercy Flight has flown more than 17,000 patient missions over the last 27 years. We currently own 5 helicopters and have crews ready to respond 24 hours a day, 7 days a week out of bases in Buffalo, Batavia and Olean.

UPDATE 10:25 a.m.: Four-hours later, the Daily has its story up, but has an important clarification:

“This is not going to be a county service,” he said (Assistant County Manager Frank Ciaccia). “This will be up to each of the individual towns, and the city of Batavia, to contract separately with Mercy Flight for their ambulance services.”

Mercy Flight will still need to acquire a certificate of need from the State Health Department, he said. That’s a certificate of approval granted by a state agency to a health care provider, deeming that a service or facility is warranted.

March 7, 2009 - 7:42am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, ambulance.

Part 2 of the Daily's FAQ on ambulance service is up.

I'm posing about it only because I get a little bugged when I see people not answering questions.  In this case, it's Greg Ireland:

To fire department union President Greg Ireland, would the union renegotiate its current contract to lessen the cost to the city?

Mallow and the union signed a contract on Sept. 4, 2007, that ran through March 2010, Ireland said, noting that at the time, Mallow was quoted as saying "every single thing that was brought up previously by council, we addressed with them."

"We have an agreement with the city to establish a labor-management committee to discuss concerns ... and the city has not approached the union to discuss any concerns they have with our current contract," Ireland said.

Notice that Ireland doesn't answer a very simple yes or no question. He obfuscates by pushing it back on the city, saying the city never asked.  But the question wasn't, "Did the city ask you?" It was, "would you?"

There's logical question back for Charlie Mallow: If the union were willing to renegotiate, would the city reconsider its position?

And is it simply too late to even consider such questions?

March 6, 2009 - 2:13pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, ambulance.

The Daily News has posted the first of a two-part FAQ on the ambulance service controversy.

It's well done and should be pretty informative to anybody (is there anybody?) who hasn't been following the issue.

There's been much discussion on The Batavian over an allegation that the city transferred money from ambulance funds to the city treasury. City Manager addresses the question:

In past years, money has been transferred from the ambulance fund to meet personnel costs associated with running the city ambulance service. Eliminating the ambulance service allows the city to cut those positions, which will end the city's need to take money from another fund.

On the issue of "scare tactics," as City Council President Charlie Mallow has characterized the union's lobbying effort, Mallow and union president Greg Ireland each get their say.


"The union's literature, signs and words imply that the city will somehow not have ambulance service after Sept. 1 and that no one will come to help when you call 911," Mallow said. "The county has made it clear that they have a process in place ... there is no reason to believe the hysteria being asserted by the union that there will be no one to provide ambulance service after Sept. 1."


"Our campaign is in NO way negative," Ireland said. "We simply want the public to be aware of the decision that council has made to eliminate their ambulance service, and City Council has no definitive plan for the future needs of their citizens. Passing the buck to someone else is not a responsible way to govern the people that elected you, and I am one of them."

Read the whole thing.

March 4, 2009 - 6:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, ambulance.

Supporters of keeping an ambulance service in Batavia set up BataviaAmbulance.com to rally public support for their cause.

Judging by their own online poll, the strategy isn't working.

On the site, the current poll asks: "Do you think eliminating the City Fire-Based Ambulance service is safe?" The possible answers are, "NO!" and "Sure, I'll risk it."

Of the first 203 answers, 65 percent of those taking this very unscientific of polls indicate they're willing to forgo a city-backed ambulance service.

March 3, 2009 - 12:12pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, ambulance, fire fighters.

Ten union fire fighters are among Batavia's higest 15 wage earners, according to documents obtained by WBTA.

Topping the payroll list is Craig Williams, a fire captain, who earned $116,629 in 2008.

Dan Fischer reports that the figures include "base salary, overtime, holiday pay and other cash benefits," but not including health care.

Fischer posted audio quotes from Charlie Mallow. Mallow is also quoted accusing the union of scare tactics.

Fischer reports:

In a paid insert in yesterday’s Daily News the fire fighters union accuses the city council of “targeting” public safety by eliminating the ambulance service.

WBTA posted a complete list of the city’s top 15 wage earners.  City Manager Jason Molino is eighth on the list as the top non-emergency personnel wage earner at $84,449.

Tune into WBTA by 12:30 for more information.

March 2, 2009 - 6:29pm
posted by Rose Mary Christian in Council, ambulance.

If there is anyone on council that is sad over the decision to eliminate that ambulance service it is me. This was a service I learned about it at a NYCOM meeting many years ago and the State that had the service was Maryland. I brought it back to the city when Keith Hunt was our fire chief. It is unfortunate that the service was never set up in a way that the city was going to be responsible for most of the cost. Our city medics have demonstrated an exceptional high quality service for all county residents. I well reiterate this decision was very personal and tough for me to eliminate this service.

The county has definitely made a decision to have ambulance service by September 1st   and working all the details out with private providers.

The union has misinformed you of putting the blame on council when the blame from the union’s greed has brought us to where we are. Their salaries are out of control and they want more. Let me shed some light on the cost of retiree health care benefits that are over a few million dollars and that will continue until age 65. That does not include the outrageous salaries.

The towns are also to blame for this mess because, they did not want to come up with their fair share of this service.  It just was not feasible to have the majority of city residents to have most of the financial burden

I also want to say it’s a dirty shame to scare our elderly residents the way this union has portrayed this decision.

I want to thank all of the elderly and those for calling me and expressing your concerns. THERE WILL BE AMBULANCE SERVICE IN BATAVIA.  All of council wants a service here.

Rose Mary Christian

March 2, 2009 - 9:28am
posted by Charlie Mallow in batavia, city council, union, ambulance.

 I fully understand the feelings of the EMTs and no one on Council was happy to have to come to a decision to end county wide ambulance service as of September 1st. There is no question that our city medics have provided and continue to provide a high quality service for all county residents. Although, recently the union has brought forth information from a questionable paid source that they describe as "fact". I want the public to understand that the use of fabricated information, fear tactics and targeting of Council is not going to shake our resolve. Council has taken every imaginable step we could find to make the city based service viable. This financial decision was made based on years of public discussions as well as input, with all the information we required being presented. 

The county has made it clear that they have a process in place to see that the entire county will have ambulance service by September 1st. There is no reason to believe the hysteria being asserted by the union that there will be no one to provide ambulance service after September 1st. Moreover, there have been at least five ambulance providers that have contacted the County or the City that are interested to providing ambulance service to this region.  Should one of these providers be selected they would be responding to ambulance calls from within the City just as they currently do now. 

As directed by Council, I have sent a letter to all county municipalities terminating all our inter-municipal ambulance agreements as of September 1st. These are the agreements that allowed the city to provide ambulance service county-wide. During the last public meeting of the GAM, Council as a whole publicly informed all the members that the city is not getting back into the business of providing ambulance service. Council has made it clear that we will not under any circumstances "go at it alone" by entering into an agreement with a private provider. The city is just one of many municipalities that is looking to the county to provide a county wide ambulance service and that decision about a provider is one for the county as a whole to make.

February 26, 2009 - 2:31pm
posted by Philip Anselmo in batavia, city council, fire department, ambulance.

Could the city's claims that the ambulance service was losing money and had to be nixed have been a "deceitful attempt" to get rid of some of the city's firefighters? That's the conclusion following an independent audit of the city's finances that allegedly shows that the ambulance has been in the black every year except one for the past five years. The decision to end the city ambulance service as of September 1 was made at a City Council meeting last month. The vote was unanimous.

Greg Ireland, president of the Firefighters Local 896, met with us today outside the city fire hall to talk about that audit.

"It's plain and simple: the numbers don't lie," he said. "Revenues exceeded expenditures, period."

If you visit the new Batavia ambulance Web site you can get a closer look at those numbers. Ireland had the audit put together by Kevin Decker, president of the Albany-based independent firm, Decker Economics. In his report, summarized in a memo that Ireland gave to us today, Decker shows that in the fiscal year 2003-04, the city ambulance fund "recorded an operating surplus (revenues minus expenses) of $529,766." In 2004-05, the fund posted a surplus of $414,006. In 2005-06, the fund posted a surplus of $570,807.

That's the year that things start to change, according to the report.

"To compensate the General fund for resources expended by fire department personnel directly related to ambulance services, the City provided for a transfer from the Ambulance fund to the General fund (of) $921,609."

This shift of expenses from one fund to another—a typical city budget includes several funds, including: general, fire, sewer and water—is known as an interfund transfer, by which expenses or revenues generated within one fund are used to offset those of another.

So, in the following year, 2006-07, Decker's report explains that the ambulance fund posted a deficit of $454,799. That deficit is explained in these terms on the Web site:

"Since people were beginning to question the inter-fund transfers, the city created a better way to hide their ambulance money.  Instead of just picking a number out of the sky, City Hall decided to remove 35% (approximately $1 million) of Firefighter's wages and benefits from the General Fund and put those expenses against the Ambulance Fund.  So without the "transfer", but adding $1 million of "false" expenses, the Ambulance Fund showed a deficit of $454,799."

The interfund transfers continued in 2007-08, but the ambulance fund still posted a surplus of $286,038, according to the report.

The bottom line is that the ambulance service helps subsidize the cost of the City's fire department. In fact, in FY 2007-08, the City's Ambulance fund generated an operating surplus even with a significant portion of fire department wages and salaries included.

If we assume that the level of staffing for fire suppression personnel cannot be reduced any further, eliminating the ambulance service will require the City to come up with other sources of revenue to finance the payroll costs for City firefighters that are currently being subsidized by the Ambulance Fund. This fact has been recognized, and reported to the City, by both the City's auditors and the State Comptroller's Office.

In conclusion:

Absent a complete lack of understanding on the part of City leaders, it would appear that this move to eliminate the ambulance service is a back door and deceitful attempt to reduce the size of the City's firefighting force.

"We want a new vote taken," said Ireland. "We want to educate the public. Then we want a new vote taken."

In a video interview with Ireland taken at the union's informational picket outside City Hall last week, he said that the city rushed the decision to end ambulance service before anyone had a chance to speak out on it.

Ireland said he is open to negotiations with the city. Of course, that would all take place "behind closed doors."

"I'm more than willing to sit down and talk openly with anyone," he said.

On a side note, our appointment this afternoon was to meet with Ireland at the city fire hall on Evans Street. We had to conduct that meeting outside on the sidewalk. Not a bad situation on a nice day like today. But you may ask why. Well, Ireland apologized and explained that the city manager, Jason Molino, called this morning and told him not to meet with the press inside the fire hall. In fact, Ireland's meeting earlier with Dan Fischer of WBTA and Joanne Beck of the Daily News had to be moved to the WBTA studios, he said.

February 20, 2009 - 2:05pm

BATAVIA, N.Y. — Three potential ambulance providers are being talked about to replace the city of Batavia ambulance service, which will cease to operate as of September 1, according to the Daily News.

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell told a group of municipal representatives from across the county last night that Rural Metro Corp., Twin City Ambulance and Monroe Ambulance would "likely" submit proposals to the county to take over service.

Explains Joanne Beck in that article:

Volunteer fire companies would still have a role ... and would be able to respond to emergencies and do some transports unless the provider specifically asks for every transport. UMMC has offered space to house ambulances of the future provider and that provider would set itself up as a business, Gsell said. It would make its money by charging customers for each service call. There isn't to be any type of fee charged to the municipality, he said.

Rural Metro is a nationwide corporation whose stock currently trades at $1.25 per share with a six-month high of $2.50 coming at the end of September. The company operates out of 22 states in the continental U.S.

From the company's Web site:

What began with one man's vision has grown today into a company with approximately $500 million in annual revenues and more than 8,000 employees who provide health and safety services throughout the United States. Annually, Rural/Metro's employees respond to more than 1 million calls for assistance.

Monroe Ambulance is a 34-year-old service that operates out of Rochester. From the mission statement:

Monroe Ambulance provides Advanced Life Support with area volunteer ambulance and fire departments, ensuring that patients who live in outlying areas have access to all of our life saving paramedic services. This includes back-up Advanced Life Support to area volunteer agencies, fire departments, and ambulance corps.

We provide medically supervised transports for patients needing transport with minimal assistance (i.e., patients able to move, sit, and walk on their own with slight assistance, such as those traveling home from same day surgery).

We are seeking information on staffing levels for Monroe.

Twin City Ambulance is based in Erie County and serves the suburban Buffalo area. More than 200 technicians make up its core staff.

Twin City was in the news a few years back over a controversial call not to send an ambulance to assist two policemen who had been shot in Buffalo. Critics claimed the call was a callous rejection. Company representatives said that the call was outside the ambulance crew's service area. That report:

We're seeking further information from Gsell on the logistics of having an outside company take over the ambulance service for the county. We will provide those details as they become available.

February 19, 2009 - 12:12pm
posted by Philip Anselmo in batavia, city council, union, firefighter, ambulance.

A constant chorus of car horns sounded support of the protestors circling the walk out front of City Hall this morning. Some two dozen members of Firefighters Local 896 braved the bitter winds to picket the City Council's recent decision to end its ambulance service by fall.

Some of the signs read: "Think! Where's your ambulance coming from?" and "Chest Pain? How long will you wait?" Such statements punctuated the argument that the gap in service could have quite dire consequences. Union President Greg Ireland spoke of a past incident, before the city had instituted its own ambulance service, when a man in arrest lay in the street with no transport available to get him to a hospital. In another instance, a victim suffering from third-degree burns had to drive himself to the hospital.

The occasion was also used to get out the word on a new Web site the union has launched at www.bataviaambulance.com.

Overall, the mood was civil yet determined as union members stalked the ground with purpose. Ireland stepped aside to speak with the media during the protest. We will post his comments in a video within the hour.

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