By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck Ambulance Inc. will remain the emergency medical service provider in the borough, but under new management.
Naugatuck Ambulance President Larry Santoro and board of director members Susan Griffin and John Baldelli resigned Aug. 10 during a meeting at the Naugatuck Event Center, but not before appointing new board members.
The new board consists of mostly borough officials. Deputy Fire Chief Ken Hanks was appointed president. The remainder of the board consists of Burgess Francis Dambowsky, who is also the borough’s emergency management director, Deputy Police Chief C. Colin McAllister, Burgess Rocky Vitale and Robert Retallick, executive director of the Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communication Center, which handles 911 dispatching for area towns.
After the resignations, the new board appointed Jeremy Rodorigo, director of business development at Waterbury Hospital, as the interim CEO of Naugatuck Ambulance. The board named Hanks deputy CEO.
The leadership shake-up at Naugatuck Ambulance comes amid a controversy over the level of service provided by the private nonprofit agency.
In early July, officials from Beacon Hose Co. No. 1, Middlebury Fire Department, Oxford Ambulance Association and Seymour Ambulance Association — volunteer companies — stopped responding to non-life threatening mutual aid calls in Naugatuck, citing a significant increase in the number of requests. From Dec. 13, 2020, through June 12, 2021, Naugatuck Ambulance passed off 815 calls, nearly 35% of the total calls received, to area agencies for mutual aid.
The borough does not operate Naugatuck Ambulance, which holds the primary service area responder designation for Naugatuck. Agencies with that designation are overseen by the state Department of Public Health. The designation grants rights to the holder to provide emergency medical service in a given area.
The moves made Aug. 10 give the borough more oversight of Naugatuck Ambulance because its own officials are now on the board. The board will provide monthly reports on call volumes and stats to the borough, Rodorigo said.
Naugatuck Ambulance will remain a separate agency, but will have the financial backing of the borough now that officials have more of say in its operations.
“If there’s a shortfall, it will be supplemented by the borough of Naugatuck,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said. “Our intention is to run it in a break even or better manner.”
Tax filings for the 2020 tax year showed Naugatuck Ambulance had $1,207,678 in total expenses and brought in $1,053,315 in revenue, for a loss of $154,363.
Hess said the changes couldn’t have happened without Santoro’s cooperation.
“We intend to provide a higher and better level of service, and we thank Larry for his efforts and for his cooperation in this transition,” Hess said.
Santoro said the change was made “to make sure the citizens of Naugatuck have a quality EMS system, not that they didn’t have one, but to maintain the quality.”
The new board transferred all interest in Where the Heart Is, a subsidiary of Naugatuck Ambulance, to Santoro and Griffin. The two own the private company that provides non-medical home care.
Santoro and Griffin will remain with Naugatuck Ambulance as consultants to assist with the transition. Santoro will be paid $1,000 a week as a consultant through Aug. 9, 2022. Griffin will stay on through the rest of the year and earn $600 a week. That money comes from the ambulance company’s revenue.
Santoro was paid $63,378 as president, while Griffin was paid $34,067, according to 2020 tax filings. Santoro has been involved with Naugatuck Ambulance for more than four decades.
“The institutional knowledge that he has is invaluable,” Rodorigo said. “We’re going to be relying heavily on him for that knowledge.”
Hess said the borough is no longer moving forward with a plan to file a petition with the state to remove Naugatuck Ambulance as the primary service area responder for the borough. Hess said the borough’s mutual aid partners have agreed to again respond to all levels of mutual aid requests.
“We intend to grow and to be a better partner to the people that have been helping us,” Hess said.
WITH NEW LEADERSHIP IN PLACE, officials are turning their attention to improving service.
Rodorigo said officials are striving to have two ambulance crews and a paramedic in a “fly car” — a separate vehicle that allows a paramedic to get to scenes quicker — available 24/7. He said the agency also will have administrative staff ready to respond to calls in a third ambulance during peak times.
This will require additional staff. Naugatuck Ambulance currently has 14 employees, but wants to hire another 15 people, according to officials. No employees were laid off as part of the leadership turnover, and officials said they increased the average hourly rate for employees to $18.
“We have some valuable employees with some very good experience and we want to retain them,” Hanks said.
The agency also is upgrading its fleet of ambulances. Naugatuck Ambulance is licensed for four ambulances, but only three are in service, Rodorigo said. He said a new ambulance was ordered Aug. 10.
Rodorigo isn’t being paid by Naugatuck Ambulance as interim CEO. He will continue to receive his salary from Waterbury Hospital while serving in the role.
Waterbury Hospital is “lending” Rodorigo, who is also a volunteer firefighter and EMT with Beacon Hose, to the borough to help with the transition. Rodorigo has more than 35 years of EMS and operations experience, Lester P. Schindel, president and CEO of Waterbury HEALTH, said in a statement.
Schindel said the hospital and borough developed a great working relationship while operating a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Naugatuck. Schindel said Hess asked for help with the ambulance service and he couldn’t think of a more qualified person for the job than Rodorigo.
“Waterbury HEALTH, the Borough of Naugatuck and the men and women of the Naugatuck Ambulance Inc., have a common goal, and that is the safety of patients and residents of Naugatuck,” Schindel said.
Rodorigo said officials want to hire a permanent CEO within four to six weeks. He said he’s not applying for the job.