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Officials question ambulance accountability

JOHNSTOWN — The Common Council on Monday night tabled approval of a fee payment for a Certificate of Need for the city’s ambulance service until a more through accounting is made of the service.

The council withdrew a proposed resolution at City Hall involving an application fee put forth through the city Fire Department for a CON for the city’s ambulance service run out of the department.

The proposed resolution indicated the city determined a need to apply for a Municipal Certificate of Need (Muni-CON) from the New York State Emergency Medical Services Council to establish and operate an Advanced Life Support First Response Service. The fire department has submitted an application to Adirondack-Appalachian Regional Medical Services Council and the application requires a $5,000 fee.

But 3rd Ward Councilwoman Amy Praught stated: “With the issues we’ve had with our chief financial officer for the ambulance service, I think we need to move cautiously.”

City Internal Control Officer Darryl Purinton in July first related a lack of accounting data available regarding the city’s ambulance service in a report to the council.

Purinton said of the Johnstown Fire EMS unit’s accounting: “The accounting project for the city’s ambulance service for the years ended Dec. 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020 has ceased because the accounting information regarding payroll and other related financial accounting data has been denied to this office and the city treasurer.” He said the cause was due to a lack of a properly functioning “control environment” as reported in four risk alerts.

The council previously approved a revenue recovery services contract with Connecticut-based Certified Ambulance Group Inc. The firm is handling billing for the Johnstown Fire EMS unit. The firm bills the patient’s private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. The firm is providing the service to the city for an amount equal to 5.5 percent of the total monthly payments received.

Praught said Monday night that the ambulance service is doing 30 days of “soft billing.”

“I think we need serious answers, financially,” she said.

Councilman-at-Large Craig Talarico agreed, noting city Treasurer Michael Gifford is “not comfortable” with the ambulance service accounting. He said there’s a question of whether the service is losing money, not at least breaking even. He said the fire department noted a temporary CON expires in mid-October.

The council withdrew the resolution, allowing a week to get financial documentation the city seeks.

Johnstown 1st Ward Councilman Bradley Hayner said the city needs the EMS CON, even if the current service ceases operation. He said the city has time to get answers.

Fourth Ward Councilman Max Spritzer said the city has tried to get financial answers, but to no avail.

“I don’t know what tabling is going to do,” he said.

Mayor Vern Jackson said he has met with Gifford, who is seeking the same ambulance service accounting that the council is.

Praught said the city can’t have an ambulance unit “that’s losing money.” She said the city is now being forced to be compliant with the state.

Council members asked the mayor about what Fulton County is doing with EMS, with Jackson answering: “That’s still under discussion for a countywide ambulance service.”

“We need to go to hard billing,” Talarico said.

Praught added: “That needs to be discussed and changed.” But she also said the city also should enforce a time limit to get information.

The council motion gave the fire department and Certified Ambulance Group until next Monday to provide “answers” on the status of the ambulance service’s financials.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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