Borough, ambulance association grow farther apart
NAUGATUCK — The divide between borough leaders and the Naugatuck Ambulance Association has grown wider recently.
Borough officials this month criticized the association for not paying a bill for state-mandated dispatch services, and then agreed to pay that bill to avoid being dropped by the dispatch provider. Immediately following that action, the ambulance association, through its attorney, went on the attack, accusing leaders of lying, breaching an agreement between the parties, refusing to work toward conflict resolution and using this issue for political gain.
Naugatuck officials rejected the lawyer’s charges, and still believe they have a legitimate reason for wanting to part ways with the private, nonprofit ambulance provider.
Despite numerous attempts, the borough has not been able to drop Naugatuck Ambulance due to state regulations. And the recent exchange shows that the issue is nowhere near being resolved.
The association, which is the state-designated primary service area responder for Naugatuck, continues to provide emergency medical services to the borough’s roughly 32,000 residents without receiving a dime from the municipal operating budget. Meanwhile, officials continue to have closed-door meetings in which they discuss “strategy” for how to get rid of Naugatuck Ambulance.
The situation, as Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi puts it, is “at a stalemate.”
The borough asked the state Department of Public Health in the spring to investigate Naugatuck Ambulance. On Friday, DPH, which previously said it had been investigating the ambulance association, told The Sunday Republican in an email that the department “does not have an ongoing investigation.”
Spokesman William Gerrish did not say anything about the outcome of the investigation and said he would look into it further.
Borough leaders said they have heard nothing about the investigation. Dominick Thomas, the attorney representing Naugatuck Ambulance, also said he has heard nothing from DPH.
What officials did hear this month was that Northwest Public Safety, which dispatches ambulances and provides state-mandated medical instruction to patients over the phone during an emergency, was going to drop the borough for an unpaid bill of $39,717. That bill had previously been paid by Naugatuck Ambulance.
However, after the borough stopped providing the association with about $140,000 a year to serve local residents, Naugatuck Ambulance stopped paying the emergency medical dispatch bill, though it still pays for other, more costly dispatch services.
The ambulance association and the borough disagree over whose responsibility it is to pay for emergency medical dispatch, and local officials say there is no state statute spelling that out.
Thomas said it is the borough’s responsibility since there is no agreement between the borough and Naugatuck Ambulance. He also said the borough was trying to use the issue to disqualify the association as the local ambulance provider.
“Naugatuck Ambulance made good faith efforts to resolve the issues but it has become obvious that the motivation of the borough politicians is a personal vendetta and an effort to eliminate Naugatuck Ambulance,” Thomas wrote in a letter to Naugatuck officials.
Thomas said Naugatuck Ambulance will seek a declaratory judgment asking a Superior Court judge to determine whose responsibility it is to pay all emergency call fees.
Borough attorney Edward “Ned” Fitzpatrick said Naugatuck officials welcome the opportunity to have the issue decided judicially.
“We are very confident in our stance,” he said. “The bottom line is all of what they are saying is about distracting and distorting from the real issues here.”
Those issues, he said, are that officials believe Naugatuck Ambulance has not provided high quality services to the borough. He said the conflict began about three years ago when Naugatuck Ambulance told officials it was going to eliminate paramedic services. That led borough officials to solicit bids for a new ambulance service. They found area companies that promised more care than Naugatuck Ambulance was providing at a much cheaper rate, Fitzpatrick said. However, because Naugatuck Ambulance holds the primary service area designation, the borough could not remove the company.
Since then, Naugatuck Ambulance has removed a paramedic fly car during the day, further angering local leaders. The lack of a the 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.
Fitzpatrick is also frustrated with the state’s system for overseeing ambulance providers. The system makes it nearly impossible to replace providers.
At the urging of borough leaders, the state legislature last year passed a measure giving municipal leaders greater oversight of the PSA holders. Among other things, it states that PSA holders must notify municipalities when they change the town’s emergency medical plan.
“That is a step in the right direction, but, like most legislation, it takes time for real change to happen,” Fitzpatrick said.
Despite the divide by the borough and Naugatuck Ambulance, Fitzpatrick said the borough is open to working toward a more positive relationship.
“There have been offers both ways and there hasn’t been any positive response to offers the borough has extended,” he said. “Having said that, we’re still willing to meet and discuss the issues with Naugatuck Ambulance.”