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Private ambulance service saves Hadley money

  • Jim Scolforo, vice president of operations of region 1 for Action EMS, left, and Michael Woronka, CEO of Action EMS, talk about the private ambulance service Aug. 24, 2018 at Hadley’s public safety complex. STAFF FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Saturday, September 28, 2019

HADLEY — Town officials’ decision to have a private ambulance service, rather than Amherst Fire Department ambulances, handle local medical calls is paying off financially for the town.

Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel told the Select Board previously that Action EMS has reduced response times significantly while maintaining a high level of care. On Wednesday he brought news that the $267,500 subsidy the town paid the private company in the first year, ending June 30, will be refunded in its entirety.

The rebate is based on a provision written into the contract. If the ambulance company made at least $700,000 in ambulance cash receipts during its first year, coming from both insurance and patient payments, the town subsidy would be returned in full.

“We’ve met and exceeded our first year’s goals,” Spanknebel said.

Spanknebel said Action EMS brought in $718,830, based on preliminary estimates, a figure that could still increase as final calculations are made during the 105-day “lookback” period that ends next week.

Town Administrator David Nixon said he is calling a meeting of the town’s financial management team to find the best way to have the subsidy money put back into the town’s budget. During his preparation of the fiscal year 2020 budget, Nixon had included a $112,000 rebate. Now, another $155,500 has to be returned, which voters may be asked to approve at a special Town Meeting on Oct. 24.

Even though the payment for the first year is a net cost of zero to the town, Hadley is continuing to pay Action EMS an annual subsidy based on terms of the contract. That subsidy increased to $282,500 on July 1 and will rise again to $297,737.50 on July 1, 2020. Rebates in future years will depend on the company reaching a higher threshold in ambulance cash receipts.

While what the town is paying is substantially higher than the $140,000 Hadley was paying Amherst under a previous contract, the fee for that arrangement had been slated to rise to $240,000 on July 1, 2019.

Select Board member Joyce Chunglo said one reason she was supportive of moving in a new direction was that Hadley would get an equal or improved service, at a better price.

“We knew it was going to be a moneymaker,” Chunglo said, adding that she feels during talks with Amherst that Hadley was not presented the whole truth about ambulance financials.

Since June 29, 2018, Action EMS paramedics have been stationed around the clock at the public safety complex on East Street, being dispatched out from the communications center housed in the building.

In the first year, Action EMS responded to 894 calls that required transports, with an average response time of 5 minutes, 4 seconds, which cut the average response time nearly in half from when Amherst was providing the service. The response average time is calculated by the receipt of the call from 911, the emergency medical dispatching and then the “out of chute” time.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.