NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck Ambulance President Larry Santoro said Tuesday his organization will continue to pay for a round-the-clock paramedic serving the borough through June 2012.
“It’s not going to change anything a year from now,” Santoro told the Joint Boards of the Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance. “We’ll extend the contract, we’ll take the loss and we’ll try to work something out.”
Naugatuck Ambulance employs 24 emergency medical technicians and pays Campion Ambulance in Waterbury for one paramedic per 12-hour shift, who responds to calls from 246 Rubber Ave. A paramedic, unlike an EMT, can inject certain medications and perform defibrillation.
The ambulance service, which the borough contracts for emergency medical calls, had planned to cut the position and replace it with an intercept program that would call paramedics from Waterbury when needed. The paramedic would leave from Waterbury at the same time as the ambulance from Naugatuck, meeting the EMTs on the scene or in route to the hospital. Santoro said the paramedic would arrive within plus or minus a few minutes of the EMTs, which is often the case even with the paramedic stationed in Naugatuck.
The intercept program is used now when the paramedic in Naugatuck is tied up, Santoro said. He said a paramedic is needed in about 25 percent of the 4,400 calls the ambulance company receives each year. Of that 25 percent, about 20 percent of the calls are already handled by an interceptor based in Waterbury, he said.
Some board members questioned whether Waterbury paramedics would be able to handle the additional volume if Naugatuck lost its paramedic.
Santoro said Campion should have the resources, but there is no guarantee. As it is, ambulance crews from other towns sometimes respond to calls in Naugatuck, he said.
Santoro said he would love to keep the paramedic program, but simply cannot afford it.
“I was trying to do everything else possible other than not having a paramedic,” he said.
Santoro said he looked at hiring his own paramedic or part-time paramedics, but it was not feasible. He said the state would not allow the company to hire a paramedic to only cover the busiest times, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Without a 24 hour paramedic, Naugatuck Ambulance would loose its Advance Life Support certification, he said.
The cost of the contract with Campion, along with the medicines paramedics have to carry, has increased to $300,000 a year, Santoro said. By contrast, the intercept program would cost an estimated $214,000 per year, based on current call volumes. Santoro said the cost of the contract is going up from $266,000 to $283,000 when it expires in a few months.
Santoro said the corporation, a private nonprofit, could not afford the cost increases for the in-town paramedic because reimbursement by patients and insurance companies is dropping. He said many calls are not billable because service was canceled or refused and most people who have to pay out of pocket don’t pay at all. In addition, programs like Medicaid only reimburse a fraction of the cost. Even though Naugatuck Ambulance made a profit of $4,000 over the last two years, it lost $64,000 from January to June of this year, Santoro said.
Members of the joint boards accused Santoro of attempting to change the ambulance service’s contract with the borough mid-term. Under the contract, which expires June 30, 2012, the borough is paying the ambulance service a stipend of about $148,000 this year to provide emergency medical and paramedic services. Santoro argued that switching to the intercept program after Sept. 1 would not violate the contract, but board members disagreed.
“We believe we’ve contracted for these services at least through next year,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said. “That does not give us enough time to look at the entire picture.”
Mezzo said he didn’t care what Naugatuck Ambulance’s numbers are. The town has to look at its options.
Santoro agreed to fund the position through the end of the contract with the borough, but said it might need to be cut after that.
Burgess Ron San Angelo said the fact that Naugatuck Ambulance had a paramedic in Naugatuck was a big selling point when the borough agreed to the contract.
With the contract set to expire next year, Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi will lead a subcommittee to research the borough’s options for emergency medical services.
“It’s tough to put a dollar amount when lives can be at risk,” said Board of Finance member Matt Katra.
Rossi and others attacked the proposal to cut the paramedic as one that would compromise patient safety and faulted Santoro for not bringing the problem before the joint boards sooner.
“To make the judgment call that the money isn’t there and we may not be interested is disturbing,” Rossi said.
Laraine Weschler contributed to this article.