NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck Ambulance, the borough’s private nonprofit ambulance service, reversed two years of losses by making a small profit of nearly $22,000 last year, according to returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
President Larry Santoro, however, says he thinks it will still cost the borough about $296,000 per year to keep the ambulance service in business — the same quote he gave last year, when the organization lost $49,000.
“I still think that’s an accurate number,” Santoro said. “Is it negotiable? Of course. Everything’s negotiable.”
The small surplus from the year ending in June went into the organization’s operating accounts and should help offset losses from previous years, Santoro said. The ambulance corps is still losing money on patient billing and does not know how the Affordable Care Act will affect it in the future, Santoro said.
“With the economy now, a lot of our patients that had insurances don’t,” Santoro said. “We still have to transport them and we’re not necessarily getting paid for them.”
The surplus came about partially as a result of savings since fall 2011, when Naugatuck Ambulance switched its billing company from Campion Ambulance to Emergency Medical Management Services out of Beacon Falls, Santoro said. The new service takes a 6 percent cut of collections, while Campion took 9.5 percent, Santoro said.
The federal reports also show Santoro made nearly $18,000 more last year than the year before, not counting a $5,000 payment to a retirement account that was not made while Naugatuck Ambulance was losing money, according to the ambulance service’s attorney, John Baldelli Jr.
Of the increase in compensation, about $12,000 came from Naugatuck Ambulance, while the rest came from its for-profit subsidiary home care organization, Where the Heart Is. Santoro made a total of about $108,000, apart from the retirement contribution, according to the forms.
Santoro said all pay increases go through the organization’s board of directors and that his pay should have equaled that of Susan Griffin, the founder of Where the Heart Is and human resources director for the ambulance corps. Griffin makes almost $90,000, not including $26,000 in health insurance and retirement contributions from both companies.
“I don’t know why that discrepancy is there,” Santoro said. “That should not be.”
Naugatuck Ambulance is working to set up a meeting with borough officials to resolve a dispute over whether the borough should continue making supplemental payments in the absence of a contract with the ambulance service. The previous contract, which had the borough paying $148,000 yearly, expired last June.
Campion Ambulance, by contrast, proposed the same level of coverage in the borough for $96,000. The company, which operates 21 ambulances headquartered in Waterbury, Torrington and Cheshire, could provide the same services for less because most of the needed resources are already in place, said President and CEO William Campion Jr. and John Zarrella, director of operations.
Campion said he would have one manager doing double duty in Waterbury and the borough and would not incur any additional costs for information technology or billing. The company would move two ambulances and associated personnel, including one paramedic in a fly car, to the borough from Waterbury. Based on response times and call volumes, Campion said he could renegotiate costs with the borough if more ambulances were needed.
However, Naugatuck Ambulance is the state’s Primary Service Area Responder for the borough, a designation that can only be removed if the organization gives it up or the state determines the organization is performing poorly enough that patient care is compromised. Santoro has said he will not give up the designation.
Campion holds the PSA designation for Torrington and objected when Torrington solicited bids two years ago for possible replacements. In this case, however, Campion said officials on the borough subcommittee seemed serious about a possible switch.
“They have assured our organization that they have some valid, specific reasons for wanting to change,” Campion said.
Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, chairwoman of that committee and a subsequently formed EMS oversight committee, declined to comment on the reasons but said the situation had improved since the oversight committee was formed.
“We’re moving forward in a positive direction, definitely,” Rossi said.
The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses decided to put the borough’s ambulance services out to bid last year after Santoro tried to eliminate the round-the-clock paramedic position headquartered in the borough, calling medics instead from Waterbury as needed. The move angered borough officials, who said Santoro was breaching their contract, and Santoro has kept the paramedics in the borough since.
Charles Mallon, 62, of Prospect, was president of Naugatuck Ambulance in the 1990s, when it stopped being the Naugatuck Volunteer Ambulance Corps and transitioned to a paid organization. Although he works for Campion Ambulance, he said he thinks residents and officials are getting the wrong idea about a dedicated group of emergency medical personnel.
“It’s not that we want to screw them or take Naugatuck citizens to the bank,” Mallon said. “We’ve never done that. … Nobody’s making a ton of money, but there’s a lot of people who have dedicated their lives to Naugatuck Ambulance.”