Ambulance of Fulton County may close doors

GLOVERSVILLE — The Ambulance Service of Fulton County was only be able to pay a portion of the payroll owed to the service’s 60 employees and suspended operations Friday as of 7 p.m.

“We are going to be making a partial payroll [Friday], we’re not going to be able to make the full payroll, we hope to be able to pay the balance to the employees next week,” said a volunteer member of the ASFC Board of Directors speaking today without authorization on condition of anonymity.

ASFC is coordinating with state and local government officials to ensure continued availability of ambulanace service in Fulton County, according to a fax received Friday afternoon. It is uncertain when ASFC will resume operations.

The ASFC is a not-for-profit organization funded through private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid payments. According to the source, the service has been facing financial constraints over the last several years due to the insufficiency of Medicaid reimbursements, which provides coverage to patients on about half of the calls the service receives.

“It costs us approximately $550 every time an ambulance goes out the door, but we get paid by Medicaid less than $200 for each call and approximately 50 percent of our calls are Medicaid. We’ve been in financial distress for quite a while trying to make things work and it just snowballed on us,” the source said.

Additionally, he estimated that call volumes have decreased by 15 to 20 percent since 2017 when the service received a total of 8,450 calls and the service does not receive any payment when an ambulance is dispatched to assist a patient who refuses or does not require transportation.

As a consequence, the source said the ASFC will only be able to pay its 60 employees about one third of the $70,000 bi-weekly payroll they were owed Friday and are unable to pay the $33,000 for workers’ compensation insurance and $4,500 for vehicle insurance bills it currently owes, meaning the service had to suspend operations Friday.

“We have loyal dedicated employees who would be willing to work in expectation of being paid eventually, but we can’t send out volunteers without workmans’ compensation and uninsured vehicles,” the source said. “We don’t have sufficient money to make those payments….so we’re taking the money we have right now and we’re going to be using that to get partial paychecks to employees.”

The source said the ASFC is currently working with the state Department of Health to try to secure a means to continue operating the service, but it was unclear what if anything the state could do. He noted the service reached out to officials in Fulton County and Gloversville who were unable to provide financial support.

“We’re exploring all our options at the moment, but I don’t know that any are viable,” the source said.

As result of the ASFC situation, ambulance service will now be routed to either the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps. or the Johnstown Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps. following a determination by the DOH, which the source said could lead to longer response times. Although a final decision has not been made on which gservice would take over calls for the county in the event that AFSC closes, GAVAC Operations Manager Michael Swartz said his organization is prepared to meet local demands should the need arise.

“We are able to increase staffing at a moments notice, so I don’t really see there being any impact to our service or covering Fulton County if necessary,” Swartz said today.

Swartz said that GAVAC typically has six or seven ambulances on duty, utilizing a status management system when responding to calls out of stations located in Fonda, Fort Plain and Amsterdam.

“If Fort Plain goes out on a call, an ambulance from Fonda moves to Fort Plain and an ambulance from Amsterdam moves to Fonda,” Swartz explained.

Swartz said if GAVAC is tasked with covering Fulton County, he would put all 10 of the organization’s ambulances on duty, strategically placing staffed ambulances in the county to handle calls as needed and including those vehicles in the status management system rotation to ensure availability.

“The Department of Health is working very hard to make the necessary arrangements to make sure EMS coverage is going to be made available to that area,” Swartz said. “If we are the agency that is granted the authority by Department of Health to service that area until the dust settles I would say that hands down we would be able to provide the service that is required.”

Officials at JAVAC did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.

According to the source from the ASFC, the service should be able to issue Friday’s outstanding payroll balance to employees by Tuesday as it continues taking money in over the coming weeks through accounts receivable in the form of private insurance and Medicare payments that typically take six weeks to receive and Medicaid payments that generally take 30 days to receive, but the service’s future remains uncertain.

“If we close today I don’t know if we would be going back in service or if somebody else would take over our operation,” the source said. “There is not the income to support an operation like we’ve had here for the past 50 years.”

“This isn’t unique to us by any means.”