Niagara County pushes for new county-wide ambulance service

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NIAGARA COUNTY, N.Y. (WIVB)- Officials in Niagara County want Mercy EMS to provide county-wide ambulance services.

The non-profit would replace Twin City and American Medical Response, which are currently providing services to the county.

The conflict started in the summer of 2016, when American Medical Response pulled out of the majority of Niagara County.

A letter from AMR to Niagara County Fire Departments in July states that AMR ambulance services will be provided only to Niagara Falls beginning Aug. 15, 2016.

That decision left the Town of Niagara County’s fire department without an ambulance service. Mercy EMS stepped in after town officials obtained a municipal certificate of need.

Now the county wants Mercy EMS to take over county-wide.

“Twin City, which does provide service to some jurisdictions without Niagara County has assisted some areas, but not the point of what is needed,” said Jonathan Schultz, Emergency Services Director and Fire Coordinator for Niagara County.

Schultz feels strongly Mercy EMS could close the gap and improve response times.

“In this circumstance, you know we’re looking to help the county and all of the providers that are in Niagara County; fire and EMS,” Director of Air Medical Operations for Mercy EMS, Donald Trzepacz, Jr. told News 4.

Schultz gives credit to volunteer fire companies in the county, who he said did a fantastic job of trying to fill the gap left behind by AMR.

He showed News 4 numbers during a four month period of 2016; they showed a number of calls took 20, 30, or even up to 50 minutes to respond to.

Those numbers do not pertain to any specific ambulance service, but are general response times.

Director of Mental Health in Niagara County, Laura Kelemen, feels poor response times are impacting an especially vulnerable patient population.

For a mental emergency call, which Kelemen said come equally from urban and rural areas in Niagara County, an ambulance service is called.

Kelemen stated response times for rural mental health patients have been so bad so that law enforcement has had to help.

“In late 2016 more than 50 percent of time, individuals had to be transported to the nearest emergency facility handcuffed in the back of a sheriff’s car,” she said.

That often deters patients from wanting to call for help again, Kelemen told us. Schultz pointed out it also takes deputies off the street.

In November, Mercy EMS applied to expand its operating territory, upon the request of Niagara County.

The regional board that oversees these things gave them the thumbs up, but during a 30-day waiting period, the motion was appealed by Twin City and AMR.

Those appeals will now be forwarded to a law judge in Albany. Depending on how they view the matter, the issue could then be forwarded on to a state council, which next meets in May.

AMR’s Regional Director Tom Maxian released the following statement to News 4:“AMR responds to all 911 calls for mental health emergencies in the City of Niagara Falls. It’s an important part of our responsibility and we are proud of the high-quality service that we provide. Our response times in the city meet or exceed the 8 minute 59 second national standard more than 90 percent of the time. As a point of clarification, AMR does not provide 911 service in other communities in Niagara County.”

We reached out to Twin City and have not heard back yet.

****UPDATE****

Terrence Clark from Twin City Ambulance reached out to News 4 after our story aired.

In response to the 20, 30, and 50 minutes response times we were shown by county officials, Clark said he is certain those were not Twin City responses.

“Niagara County Fire Control does not directly record our response times as we no not call on location via radio to the Niagara County communication center the way the volunteer services do. The only time they may record the time Twin City gets on location is when a 1st responder calls it in via radio. Any data based on this would be very sporadic and highly suspect, in that we are frequently on scene for several minutes before that radio call is made, if it is made at all,” he said via email.

Clark also provided News 4 with the latest numbers from Twin City:

Ave Response  Cold ALS                   Cold BLS                    Hot ALS                     Hot BLS

Sept 2016                02:08                        08:03                         05:01                       05:30

Oct 2016                 05:41                         07:31                        05:24                       04:56

Nov 2016                 06:18                        07:09                         05:38                        05:50

Dec 2016                10:26                          07:59                         05:12                       05:53

Jan 2017                 09:25                          07:28                         05:54                       05:34

Feb 2017                 05:27                          07:45                         05:31                       05:42

“These numbers are quite typical in the major communities that rely on us to provide primary ambulance service. We post some of the best response times of any ambulance service in the United States,” he said.

Clark also noted that while AMR has in fact scaled back operations in Niagara County, Twin City has expanded.

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