Bill gives towns more say

State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-70), left, and Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo testify in favor of HB 5542 earlier this year in Hartford. –CONTRIBUTED

State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-70), left, and Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo testify in favor of HB 5542 earlier this year in Hartford. –CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — Municipal leaders across the state now have new tools to replace ambulance organizations that are not providing adequate service.

The House and Senate last week passed a bill that requires municipalities to coordinate with ambulance providers whenever they update their emergency medical services plans. The measure also provides for removal of providers who fail to give quality patient care.

Several Naugatuck leaders supported the bill. They testified in Hartford that they have been hamstrung by the way the state Department of Public Health reviews EMT providers who are designated as primary service area responders (PSAR). They say that for years it has been nearly impossible for municipalities to remove ambulance associations that are not meeting local expectations.

The PSAR system, adopted more than 30 years ago in Connecticut, was put in place to avoid political interference with ambulance service; it assured elected officials wouldn’t be able to bring in their friends to run their towns’ ambulance program. However, some say it has had a negative effect.

Naugatuck Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi worked for two years for legislation that would give towns more leverage with ambulance providers. In her testimony on behalf of the bill, she said all ambulance providers have to do is to “simply show up” to keep their PSAR designations, regardless of the quality of service. She and others in favor of the bill argued for more oversight and more authority to remove bad EMT providers.

Rossi said this is a statewide issue, and that there are other municipalities — Milford is one of the most vocal along with Naugatuck — that have experienced difficulty with ambulance services.

“The number one problem is that municipalities are dealing with residents on a regular basis, some of whom have complaints about EMS, yet we have no ability to have input or no effective way to reach out to the Department of Public Health to do something,” she said. “This is allowing municipalities to have a voice at the table.”

Rossi and other local officials have stated — strongly implied — that they are unhappy with the service provided by the Naugatuck Ambulance Association.

Naugatuck Ambulance states the assertions are simply wrong and stand by the quality of service. At the same time, they have complained that the borough’s decision to stop financial support for the service has made it difficult to meet demands for improved service.

Borough officials have continued to search for ways to sever ties with the private, nonprofit organization that has provided ambulance service here for nearly three decades.

The contract between Naugatuck Ambulance and the borough has expired, and Naugatuck has stopped paying the association for its services. The company bills patients or insurance companies for money.

She said it’s too early to tell whether the new law — if it is signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy — will have an immediate impact on Naugatuck.

“We do have a complaint (about Naugatuck Ambulance) in with DPH and an investigator has been assigned to Naugatuck,” she said, adding that next week, she and Fire Chief Ken Hanks will meet with borough attorneys to discuss how this affects Naugatuck’s situation.

Based upon the new bill, there will be a thorough review by the Department of Public Health to determine whether complaints are founded.

At least every five years, the DPH will review and rate the PSAR holder’s performance. The DPH review will also include an evaluation of the responder’s compliance with applicable laws and regulations. The department will assign a rating of 1: meets performance standards, 2: exceeds performance standards or 3: fails to comply with performance standards. A failing rating has various consequences, including possible removal as PSAR if the responder fails to improve.

State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-70), co-sponsored the bill. “Residents can feel confident they’ll receive the best care available,” she said in a news release.

Municipalities that are satisfied with their EMS service are not the focus of the legislation and are free to continue with their current provider, Rebimbas added.

“This legislation is aimed at those providers who fail to provide quality patient care, and continue to do so because of the knowledge that they hold the exclusive right to the PSAR,” she stated.

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