Updated: January 17, 2020 07:40 PM
Created: January 17, 2020 07:38 PM
Rotterdam EMS was established in 1936. Today, the ambulance operator is down two ambulances, out of its fleet of five ambulances and one fly car. However, first responders working at the non-profit agency are still answering the community's calls for help.
Both ambulances were permanently taken out of service in November and December of 2019. The Executive Director of Rotterdam EMS, Dean Romano, blames mechanical failure. Romano tells NewsChannel 13 they've been waiting patiently on a state grant for several years and that grant funding, $125,000 according to Dean Romano, was secured back in 2014. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara helped Rotterdam EMS with this funding, which Romano says will allow them to buy a brand new ambulance.
Romano stated, "Angelo, he was able to secure a grant for us to replace one of our ambulances. That grant process is really long and sometimes very difficult so we've been about 4.5 years, almost five years working through the grant. A lot of paperwork a lot of obligations and I don't want to say the rules changed, along lines you find new rules you didn't know about, and all of a sudden you need to comply with or make sure you're complying with."
Romano added, the process started in 2014.
"And it's 2020 and we are waiting on getting that money. It is frustrating but I know that there is a process, I'm trying to be very respectful of the process. The rules are not spelled out anywhere. There's no manual to spell out when you get a grant, these are the things you have to do," he explained.
Romano says the town of Rotterdam requires a contract to staff two ambulances 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but does not offer any funding to Rotterdam EMS. Romano also admits it took the agency three years to fundraise $10,000 to pay for a required audit as part of the grant process. Romano confirms that is contributing to the release of funds.
Carol Colleton is a taxpayer in Rotterdam. She says Rotterdam EMS responded to her house on two separate occasions last fall, before her late husband Terrance passed away from melanoma in November of 2019. She is grateful for Rotterdam EMS. "Absolutely, totally dependent. I had no other way to get him there. We can't survive without them."
"He wasn't very mobile and they were very good assisting," she said. "They responded quickly."
"Tension is building. We worry about not having enough ambulances if something was to happen," said Romano.
There are 50 staffers - including EMTs and paramedics at Rotterdam EMS. They respond to 3,700 calls for service every year on average. Romano says they're concerned with their current situation and no funding from the town while they wait for the state grant. That grant application was made through the Dormitory Authority of New York State. Romano tells NewsChannel 13 the town of Rotterdam, despite not officially contributing any funding to the company, does support them the best they can.
"They send donations when we do our fund drive, but there needs to be a uniformed and stable funding source. We replaced one used ambulance, we're still waiting on another ambulance we're supposed to get through the grant that was arranged by Angelo Santabarbara," said Romano.
For now, Rotterdam EMS was able to purchase a used ambulance from Central New York to add to the fleet.
On Friday, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara who was not available for an on-camera interview tweeted:
Rural ambulance services provide medical care that saves lives. We’ve already seen too many forced to close their doors (26 statewide) and can’t risk losing more. I urge the governor to prioritize funding for rural ambulance services, set clear goals to help in this state budget. pic.twitter.com/HH4BHBP86Y— Angelo Santabarbara (@AsmSantabarbara) January 17, 2020
Currently, Santabarbara wrote "The department has not received any closure plans pertaining to EMS services."
For Carol Colleton, she hopes the town of Rotterdam can step in and provide some funding to Rotterdam EMS.
"We need it, we can't survive without it. I think the town should try to step up and do something for them," said Colleton.
Dean Romano promised the community, "We don't put ambulances on the road that aren't safe, but we do need to start replacing our fleet and this is the beginning, if you want to call the Dormitory Authority and ask them where our money is that'd be great."
NewsChannel 13 reached out to DASNY. A public information officer emailed a statement:
"To protect taxpayer dollars, all grants go through the grant diligence process. The diligence paperwork requests certain corporate information to verify the grantee is eligible under the authorizing statute and financial information to verify that the grantee has sufficient funds to complete the described project.
DASNY received the grant application for CCAP 6592 in March 2015 and the diligence process commenced. One of the final steps in DASNY's review process is to confirm the grantee is prequalified through the State's Grants Gateway, which is the State's online grant application and contract management system. This step is required for all not-for-profits receiving State funds to ensure that organizations are qualified recipients. In January 2016 the grantee was notified of the requirement to be prequalified in the Grants Gateway, however the grantee did not complete this process until October 2019. With this confirmation in place, DASNY has advanced the grant application to its final stages of review."
Romano tells NewsChannel 13 the state got their application in 2014, and held it until the audit they had to fundraise to come up with $10,000 to pay for it was completed.
He reminds, "EMS is an essential service and we use that magic word 'essential service.' What that does is it puts an obligation on municipality to ensure EMS in that municipality. It does not say that EMS has to be funded or how they have to be funded or they need support so we should put some teeth to that term and instead of saying essential service, say it's essential, that service is funded. I have the people to do the call, I don't have the ambulance to put them in. So I can't grow the business. We can't do those calls so we can't bill for those calls."
The lifespan of an ambulance is 10 years in Rotterdam according to Romano. He confirms he has three past that lifespan including the two already taken out of service.
Romano says there are concerns for public safety.
"There are so we do our best to keep the right number of ambulances on the road. Having the reserve ambulances helps us in case something breaks down, we have something to replace it with," Romano stated.
In mid-December, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara announced a bill to establish a task force to look into rural ambulances, and the crisis they face across New York state.
"This task force is absolutely needed. EMS in New York state, is in trouble. We are uniformly having trouble all the way across state. Because the funding stream is not consistent and fee for service is not what you'd think it would be."
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