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Mercy may replace AMR as Town of Niagara ambulance provider

TOWN OF NIAGARA

American Medical Response told the Town of Niagara on Tuesday that it no longer plans to discontinue ambulance service there this month.

But Town Supervisor Lee S. Wallace, who had been close to a replacement ambulance deal with Mercy EMS, said he’s not sure the town wants AMR anymore.

AMR, formerly called Rural/Metro, had been supplying ambulance services for Niagara Active Hose Company, the only fire company in the town. But AMR invoked a 30-day out clause in the contract, setting its departure for Aug. 15.

AMR Regional Director Thomas J. Maxian told The Buffalo News Tuesday that a change in circumstances had led his company to tell Wallace that it planned to stay.

“We’re keeping all our options open,” Wallace told The News. “I have to talk this over with our board.”

Jonathan F. Schultz, Niagara County fire coordinator, said Niagara Active Hose Co., like about half of the volunteer fire companies in the county, has no ambulance. Schultz said most of those that do have ambulances lack the ability to perform advanced life support functions. That’s why the fire companies or their towns make deals with ambulance companies.

AMR also had given notice to Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport and to Frontier Fire Company in Wheatfield that it would no longer handle patient transfers for them.

Twin City Ambulance President Terence Clark said Tuesday that his company had reached an agreement to take over at Frontier and was negotiating a similar contract with Eastern Niagara Hospital. That development, Maxian said, made it possible for AMR to continue in the Town of Niagara.

The company has seven to nine ambulances based in neighboring Niagara Falls each day and four to five each night. Having a contract with a hospital in Lockport meant “resources were strained from our primary 911 area,” Maxian said. That primary area was Niagara Falls and the Town of Niagara.

“We’re in a position where we’re able to reaffirm our commitment to the Town of Niagara,” Maxian said.

Wallace responded, “I’m not saying yes to him, I’m not saying no to him. I have to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our residents.”

Wallace said he received a termination letter and then received an “un-termination” letter from AMR. “I have to be cautiously concerned, based on what happened before,” he said.

Before AMR’s reversal, the town was expecting to hire Mercy EMS, the ground ambulance affiliate of Mercy Flight, to provide Niagara Active’s ambulance service.

Margie Ferrentino, spokeswoman for Mercy Flight, said Mercy EMS operates 16 ambulances, covering all of Genesee County and the Erie County Town of Concord and Village of Springville. She said if it’s hired in the Town of Niagara, Mercy will buy two new ambulances and base them in that town. The equivalent of four new full-time jobs will be created.

Wallace said the terms probably would be the same as the AMR contract: the town pays nothing and the ambulance company makes its money by billing the patients it transports, or their insurers.

“We receive no subsidies from the communities we serve,” Ferrentino said. She and Wallace said the contract probably would have a five-year term with a five-year renewal option.

Schultz said he, Mercy EMS and the town are working with the state Health Department to obtain an emergency authorization allowing for Mercy to operate in Niagara County while an application for a permanent “certificate of need” is pending.

The Niagara County Legislature unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night supporting Mercy’s application to operate in Niagara County. Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls, whose district includes the Town of Niagara, praised Mercy for being willing to help out.

“Their record in quality patient care and service to the municipalities they cover is impeccable,” said Zona, a Niagara Falls firefighter.

Rural/Metro had been the target of complaints about response times in Buffalo, but Maxian said he knew of no such complaints in the Town of Niagara.

Monday, Wallace said AMR’s reason for pulling out was that “they wanted to concentrate on those areas that they could serve better. You want my honest opinion? They wanted to stay in the areas that they make the most money in, which was the City of Niagara Falls and the City of Buffalo. From a purely business standpoint, that makes perfect sense. From a purely community point of view and a passion point of view and a concern point of view, if they’re really in the business for the money part of it, taking care of communities really isn’t a factor.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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