Ailing Adams Ambulance Sees Possible Cure
Cheshire Select Board Chair Shawn McGrath and Adams Selectmen Chair Christine Hoyt speak at Monday's joint meeting with Savoy. Adams Town Moderator Myra Wilk, right, moderated the question and answer session.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Adams Ambulance Service believes it has an 11th hour save to keep the 50-year-old nonprofit's doors open.
Officials from Adams, Cheshire and Savoy were set to vote on Monday night to designate Northern Berkshire EMS as their emergency service provider but held off after impassioned pleas by AAS employees and a potential proposal that could resolve the service's fiscal woes.
"We're basically just asking for a little reprieve or maybe a couple of weeks ... a couple of weeks holding off until we can put this together," said the ambulance service's President Fred Balawender during the joint meeting at Cheshire's Community House.
The ambulance service is to close its doors on Dec. 31 but Balawender said a caller at 11 a.m. that morning offered a substantial deal to purchase the service's building on Columbia Street that would wipe out its debt and help it through the next fiscal year.
"It looks like a great proposal looks like a great, great program, and it would keep us in business," he said.
He later said the service would immediately request the state Department of Public Health rescind the notification letter of closure.
The service was last reported to have a deficit of at least $200,000 but the Select Boards of Adams and Cheshire said they have no grasp on the depth of the financial problems despite nearly two years of conversations with AAS officials.
Cheshire Chair Shawn McGrath and Adams Chair Christine Hoyt laid out lengthy timelines dating to March 2022 when they were first approached by the service seeking funding support. At that point, the deficit was about $100,000.
"We feverishly tried to keep this service open," said Balawender. "For 2 1/2 years we've requested funding from people and places and towns. We hit a brick wall almost every time."
Hoyt, however, said the boards had explained the budgeting process and repeatedly requested data that failed to appear over the past 18 months.
"No formal proposal was provided by Adams Ambulance as to what the subsidy would be," she said. "The proposed amount was somewhere between $119,000 to $190,000. But they couldn't identify how they came up with that formula or those dollar amounts."
Cheshire Select Board member Michelle Francesconi said the towns had offered immediate support back in 2022 in terms of grant writing and community outreach.
"We collectively came up with a whole bunch of different suggestions that we offered Adams Ambulance in terms of finding solutions to their financial issues, and not the least of which is that they immediately start marketing themselves," said Francesconi. "We had really laid out a game plan that would allow them to start to do community outreach so people understood the gravity of the situation.
"I think we're here today because those steps were not taken."
All three boards were also taken aback that they did not receive official notification of the service's closure until Friday, Nov. 17, at 4:30 p.m. — a week after it was reported on social media. During that week, they began taking action on plans for Northern Berkshire EMS coverage.
Adams Ambulance President Fred Balawender, right, thinks its better to have two ambulance services than one. He says the service's decision to pay cash for two ambulances rather than borrow compounded its fiscal difficulties.
Jason Koch, who's been an EMT with Adams for two years, said the service is ready to start taking those steps.
"The notice of our closure to us employees was about as sudden as it was to everybody else," he said. "We were not aware of the financial situation that we were in, so a lot of this going on it's news to all of us."
Employees have formed a committee and are now looking into how to rectify the billing issues and examining all the options, including fundraising.
"Wheels are already in motion," he said. "I don't think that nonprofit EMS is going to be able to survive without a little bit of help. And the massive outpouring of support for our service from the residents of Adams and Cheshire has been overwhelmingly encouraging to us and I think it's mainly the reason why we decided to really, really push and really try and fight and find solutions for our problems."
Anyone who has donated to the AAS in the past year are considered shareholders, said Koch, and welcome to attend a vote at the ambulance on Nov. 28 on whether it should stay open.
J. Dominic Singh, executive director of the regional office for Western Mass EMS, said a lot of the financial problems for EMS across the state and nation is that reimbursements are not keeping up with costs. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare had planned a three-year data collection — that was supposed to start in March 2020. It's only now getting started.
"We are concerned that we're going to see more and more services like this and your solution to that in the near term is to look at different models," he said, including regionalization.
Southern Berkshire Ambulance Squad currently has a $350,000 deficit
and has turned to the towns it serves to ask for subsidies.
Adams EMT Jason Koch says a committee of employees is working to rectify some of the service's problems and has started fundraising.
A number of employees of AAS spoke to concerns about coverage and their commitment to the community, often to applause from the crowded room. Several residents also asked questions during the session moderated by Adams Town Moderator Myra Wilk.
John Meaney Jr., general manager of Northern Berkshire EMS, explained how the service was preparing to step in should AAS close: it's planning on using the Adams Forest Wardens and Cheshire Fire Department as substations (they've already been inspected by the state), is working on state applications and with the Berkshire County Regional Dispatch Center.
"I'm committed to EMS and share the value of the patient for knowing their provider. It is my commitment to maintain that the same value and the communities by hiring the very same individuals that are responding today. It has been our desire right from the start," he said. "On a personal note, we worked together as proud unified agencies for 50 years. Let's not allow this collaborative opportunity to create a divide in the family of EMS in Northern Berkshire County."
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