Officials seek to sway state

DPH reviewing letters of complaint concerning Naugatuck Ambulance

NAUGATUCK — Local officials are using residents’ complaints in an attempt to persuade state regulators that the Naugatuck Ambulance Association is providing substandard service to the community.

Letters of complaint from residents will be reviewed by the state Department of Public Health, which is investigating the ambulance organization.

Two written complaints from residents, plus criticisms from public safety officials, are included among more than 20 pages of documents that Naugatuck municipal attorney Edward “Ned” Fitzpatrick and his staff have filed with DPH.

In one complaint, a borough woman claims Naugatuck Ambulance EMTs dissuaded her from going to the emergency room on Feb. 10 for treatment of intense leg pain. Two weeks later, she went a doctor and learned she had a fractured hip, which required surgery the next day in part because the leg had started to heal incorrectly, she states in her letter.

Naugatuck officials say this is one of many examples of Naugatuck Ambulance’s inadequacies. But the attorney representing the private, nonprofit ambulance group, Dominick Thomas of Ansonia, says patient complaints are common in the ambulance field.

He said complaints are filed “all the time” against all ambulance associations. He believes the association will be exonerated and that the Naugatuck officials behind the unflattering claims are making them for “political reasons.”

A decision could take a while. DPH has been investigating the case since the end of January, when the department asked Naugatuck officials for more information regarding why they believe there is an emergency situation being caused by Naugatuck Ambulance.

DPH said the investigation is ongoing and that it is confidential at this time.

Naugatuck officials have had issues with the way Naugatuck Ambulance operates for at least two years. The dispute led the borough to withdraw public funding from the organization.

The borough has explored replacing Naugatuck Ambulance, but lacks leverage because the organization holds Primary Service Area Responder status with the state. It is hard to remove that as long as EMT providers are delivering a basic level of care.

A bill recently passed in the state legislature gives municipal leaders greater oversight of PSAR providers. Among other things, it states that PSAR holders must notify municipalities when they change the town’s emergency medical plan.

Borough officials complain that Naugatuck Ambulance failed to notify them when the association decided to remove a paramedic fly car between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. The lack of a paramedic fly car means a paramedic has to go to calls in a traditional ambulance and cannot leave the scene to take a more urgent call in another location, borough officials say.

Naugatuck Police Chief Christopher Edson submitted a letter to DPH in April stating this about the lack of a fly car for a portion of the day:

“It is too early to establish clearly that the changes have impacted patient care, (but) it is clear, however, that public concern and their sense of comfort that medical assistance will respond in a timely manner has been impacted.”

A separate letter submitted by police Lt. Brian Newman refers to two incidents where police had to help EMTs with CPR because Naugatuck Ambulance did not have enough people on scene.

Naugatuck Fire Chief Ken Hanks, a member of the Naugatuck EMS Oversight Committee, submitted a letter stating that the changes in staffing mean there is a reduction of 33 percent for ambulance vehicles on the road and a 20 percent reduction in staffing levels during the day and evening hours.

“On two occasions I am aware of (March 14 and March 31) both ambulances were dispatched to cardiac arrest calls, leaving no coverage in the borough,” he writes. “The previous staffing would have left a basic life support ambulance in service.”

Fitzpatrick, the borough’s attorney, wrote a letter to the DPH stating the changes in ambulance service have created a potentially dangerous emergency situation. The letter takes it a step further, stating that Naugatuck Ambulance “is providing grossly inadequate emergency services to residents.”

Thomas said last Friday that he had yet to be notified by DPH that there is an investigation.

“Nobody is talking to us about it,” he said. “We welcome an investigation because if there is one, we are going to be exonerated, and we’d hope the borough officials who have been churning the politics would be on their apology horse.”

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