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AMHERST SWITCHES AMBULANCES; NEW CONTRACT CALLS FOR STAFFING CHANGE

Ambulances on emergency calls in Amherst will be staffed by one top-level paramedic instead of two under a new contract approved Monday afternoon by the Amherst Town Board.

The board switched the town's contract to LaSalle Ambulance Service of Buffalo when Town Ambulance Service of Cheektowaga failed to fully implement a plan to prevent vehicle and equipment violations, officials said.

Under the new three-year pact, LaSalle ambulances will be manned by one Level 4 emergency medical technician and one intermediate emergency medical technician.

Two Level 4 paramedics have ridden in Town ambulances on emergency calls in Amherst for the past five years.

A Level 4 paramedic receives 800 hours of training, compared with 200 hours for an intermediate-level paramedic, officials said.

But the new paramedic service with LaSalle "meets accepted medical standards" and has been approved by the state Health Department, the director of emergency services at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst and the Amherst Fire Chiefs Association, Town Attorney James M. Nesper said.

Nesper said Amherst authorities were concerned with recurring equipment deficiencies. They said Town Ambulance was cited for deficiencies by the state Health Department over the past five years.

Inspectors found such violations as the absence of a child's oxygen mask, doors that didn't open, malfunctioning oxygen meters and rust holes, town officials said.

Amherst turned to LaSalle after a Dec. 17 inspection revealed "great deficiencies" in Town Ambulance's implementation of a "corrective-action plan" filed with the Health Department in August, Nesper said.

Amherst had wanted to keep the two Level-4-paramedic system, but LaSalle couldn't provide it, officials said.

The switch in paramedic services came at a special Town Board meeting -- called because Amherst's contract with Town Ambulance expired with the end of 1990.

But Nesper noted that the contract had been under review for about nine months and that the decision to change to LaSalle was recommended by the Amherst Fire Chiefs Association and a special committee.

Amherst officials stressed that the Town Ambulance violations involved the condition of some vehicles and equipment -- not the company's level of patient care.

"All those violations were corrected immediately," Brian S. Wakoff, operations director of Town Ambulance, told the board.

Wakoff outlined a six-point corrective plan undertaken by Town Ambulance, but acknowledged that the company's "own review" of it earlier this month showed only 80 percent had been implemented.

But Nesper said Amherst "has been after (Town Ambulance) for five years" to take "one particular corrective measure. It wasn't done, and it's still not done," he said. Nesper didn't say what that "corrective measure" was.

Amherst residents Robert R. Wakoff -- Brian Wakoff's father -- and Louis H. Glickman raised concerns about what effect a reduction from two to one top-level paramedics will have on the quality of emergency medical care in the town.

"There is a great deal of precedent" for one paramedic and one intermediate paramedic on ambulances in Erie County, said William J. Regan, LaSalle's attorney, who also recited a list of area hospitals and communities served by LaSalle.

"The service (by LaSalle) will be different, but not lessened," Regan said.

The contract with LaSalle is geared to a six-minute maximum response time to all calls in Amherst, officials said. The old contract was geared to having a specific number of ambulances stationed in the town at all times and their location, they said.

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