Thursday, January 26, 2023

Cornwall May Oust Ambulance Corp; New Windsor to Take Over

The Town of Cornwall and Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson are working together to oust the Cornwall Volunteer Ambulance Corp (COVAC) and have New Windsor Volunteer Ambulance Corp (NWVAC) take over coverage on a three-year contract. COVAC is fighting against the potential move and wants to continue protecting the community they have been serving since 1955.

A public meeting will be held to further discuss this on Thursday, May 26, 2022 at 7:00pm at 325 Hudson Street in Cornwall-on-Hudson.

The potential move comes as the New York State legislature recently introduced legislation to establish emergency medical services as an “essential service,” potentially reconfiguring how ambulatory services are administered.

Cornwall Town Supervisor Joshua Wojehowski and Cornwall-on-Hudson Mayor James Gagliano issued a joint statement on behalf of the Town and Village Boards. They explained, “Of recent, it has become more difficult to provide this critical volunteer service due to soaring costs and the dwindling number of available volunteers.”

COVAC Chief Joe Reardon issued a rebutting statement on behalf of his membership. He concedes that COVAC underwent problems, but said the Corp recently hired new staff and equipment thanks to Town funding. As a result, he says COVAC is able to assemble crews for 94% to 98% of all calls. However, he said Town and Village officials met with COVAC can no longer serve Cornwall as of July 1.

For the last year, NWVAC has contracted with the Town of Cornwall and Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson to provide Advanced Life Support coverage at a cost of $12,000 per month. This includes Paramedic treatment, which is a higher level than an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Aside from the contract, New Windsor has been providing Cornwall with calls for mutual aid.

During that same time, COVAC provided Basic Life Support coverage including transportation to the hospital for $10,000 per month. This includes EMT treatment. The Town and Village budgets for the 2022 fiscal year includes a combined $300,000 to pay COVAC for coverage.

Reardon contended that COVAC asked the Town of Cornwall for $14,000 per month, the same amount Cornwall is currently paying New Windsor. Reardon said the money would have gone toward hiring an operations manager in part to keep staffing levels sufficient. “We are still willing to do this with the help of the community and funding,” Reardon said.

The proposed three-year contract with NWVAC would cost Cornwall taxpayers $24,000 per month, which is the same they are paying now ($10,000 to COVAC and $14,000 to NWVAC).

Several years ago, COVAC requested to begin billing patients directly. A decision was reached to dissolve their “ambulance district”, which was overseen by the Town. COVAC began billing insurance providers directly to remain solvent without money being allocated from Cornwall.

“Despite the provided financial support, there continue to exist a number of issues that have not been resolved, as relates to the professional administration of ambulatory services to our residents,” the Town and Village joint statement said.

The Town Supervisor and Village Mayor have met privately with COVAC leadership. COVAC officials also appeared before a joint board’s special meeting on January 11, 2022. However, Reardon argued that the last two meetings were cancelled by both the Town and Village, but COVAC has remained in contact with them monthly.

COVAC maintains they have mitigated their insolvency issues and improved their first-call response rates. However, the Town and Village Boards feel that NWVAC is the “gold standard” for ambulatory care and should be contracted to cover all ambulance calls.

If current members of COVAC want to continue serving as EMTs, they would need to join NWVAC. They would then be able to operate out of COVAC’s current location on Clinton Street serving as New Windsor volunteers stationed in Cornwall. They would be attired in Cornwall EMS uniforms and respond to calls in COVAC rigs. “This assumption of responsibilities can be considered a consolidation,” the Town and Village statement continues.

“This is the best path forward for Cornwall,” the Town and Village Boards insisted.

“Personally, instead of pushing COVAC out, I would rather … the two agencies come together and make a board of both agencies (NWVAC and COVAC) which would give better oversight to COVAC,” Reardon said.

“This was not an easy decision,” the Town and Village Boards added. “Town and Village elected officials reflected deeply on the many decades of selfless service that COVAC and its volunteers have provided to our community; indeed, it is an honored local institution. But the primary responsibility of public officials is ensuring their constituents are afforded best available services for their hard-earned tax dollars.”

“Please help try and change the minds of the Town and Village Boards,” Reardon urged.

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