By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck Ambulance Inc.’s operations have improved significantly in the first few weeks following a change in leadership and an influx of borough funding.
“We’re billing more efficiently, we’re answering more calls and we’re taking opportunities to help our neighbors, which also helps us in terms of revenue,” said Naugatuck Ambulance interim CEO Jeremy Rodorigo, as he gave an update on the nonprofit agency Sept. 7 to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses.
Rodorigo was appointed interim CEO on Aug. 10, after former longtime Naugatuck Ambulance President Larry Santoro and board of director members Susan Griffin and John Baldelli resigned.
A new board, made up of mostly borough officials, was formed Aug. 10 and named Rodorigo interim CEO. The board has since hired Kyle Kelley as the next chief of service and CEO of Naugatuck Ambulance. Kelley, who is the executive director and CEO of Seymour Ambulance Association, is slated to start in Naugatuck on Oct. 4.
The change came amid a controversy over the number of calls the agency was passing to surrounding towns for mutual aid. 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 to respond to calls.
Rodorigo said the agency has increased its staff by 10 employees to about 24 people, who are mostly part-time EMTs.
“That right there improves the amount of calls that you can answer,” Rodorigo said. “When you can put more trucks on the road, you can answer more calls and your response (time) is dramatically reduced because the ambulance is coming from Naugatuck.”
Naugatuck Ambulance received 377 EMS calls in August, according to Rodorigo. From Aug. 1 through Aug. 10, he said mutual aid was needed to respond to 14 calls and Naugatuck Ambulance provided mutual aid to another town once. From Aug. 11 through Aug. 31, the borough received mutual aid nine times and gave aid 18 times, he said.
The ambulance company also had a dramatic increase in collections from July to August due in part to responding to more calls. Rodorigo said the agency brought in $123,000 in August compared to $58,000 in July.
“We worked closely with our billing company to identify what inefficiencies there were and were able to make some corrections to show almost immediate improvements in collection rates,” Rodorigo said.
Burgess Robert Neth said Naugatuck Ambulance went from a 2 to a 10 on the scale of its efficiency.
“This process has been well overdue for many years,” Neth said.
The moves made Aug. 10 gave the borough more oversight of Naugatuck Ambulance because its own officials are now on the board. Naugatuck Ambulance remains a separate agency, but has the financial backing of the borough now that officials have more of a say in its operations.
The funding the borough has given and plans to give to the agency totals $275,000 so far. Most of the money is for repairs and to purchase equipment, including an ambulance and radios.
Officials said once Naugatuck Ambulance gets to the point where its revenues exceed its expenses, the agency will pay the money back.
“We’re going to make sure it works,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess told Rodorigo. “We’re going to work with you and get through it, and we’re thrilled with everything you’ve done so far.”
Naugatuck Ambulance is licensed to operate four ambulances. Three ambulances were in disrepair. One had a cracked engine block, another a broken alternator and the other a blown motor, Rodorigo said.
Two ambulances were scrapped. The one with the busted alternator was expected to be fixed by the end of last week. Groton Ambulance Association loaned an ambulance to the agency to use.
Officials have purchased a refurbished ambulance with a new engine and a new flight car. The new ambulance was expected to arrive by this week.
Drew Marine, a company based in Naugatuck, also donated two Lucas CPR devices to the agency, Rodorigo said. The device is mechanical chest compression-decompression system. Each one costs $15,000, Rodorigo said.
Emergency responders at Naugatuck Ambulance have also received a pay increase from about $13 an hour to about $18 an hour, which is more consistent with their contemporaries, Rodorigo said.
Robert Daley, who has been a paramedic in the borough for 20 years, said he has seen a 180-degree change in the morale at Naugatuck Ambulance.
“Things happening that I haven’t seen in the 20 years that I’ve been here. I appreciate the town’s help on that,” Daley said. “We’re here to offer great service, but what I see with the employees is the morale boost.”