Adams Votes for North Berkshire EMS

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Joshua Koch tells the Board of Selectmen he will be taking over as one of two co-manager of Adams Ambulance.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Thursday voted at the end of a 2 1/2-hour meeting to designate Northern Berkshire EMS as its primary provider of emergency services as of Jan. 1. 
The vote was 4-0 and comes two days after the Cheshire Select Board unanimously voted the same. 
Members and supporters of the Adams Ambulance Service asked the board to hold off on its decision but officials were not confident that it would be able to rectify its financial woes within a four-week timeframe. Or if the state Department of Public Health would allow it to continue operation since it had notified the DPH that it would close Dec. 31 if not earlier. 
The service is also under a corrective order by the state for failing to develop a state-approved plan to prevent coverage from being disrupted. It has a deadline of Dec. 20 to comply.
"The Department of Public Health says we cannot move forward assuming that Adams Ambulance Service will be allowed to continue to provide coverage to the town," said Town Administrator Jay Green. "That is the context of the hearing."
Green stressed that Adams Ambulance is a private non-profit that is not operated or funded by the town and that the change in service provider does not mean it will cease to function. Rather, Northern Berkshire will be the first dispatched for 911 calls; Adams will still be part of mutual aid, will be able to take transports and continue to cover Savoy and Hawley.
Selectman Howard Rosenberg said the lack of information coming from the ambulance service over the past 18 months played into their decisions. 
Board members in both Adams and Cheshire have said their questions regarding the service's financial status and budget have not been answered to their satisfaction. The service has approached the towns seeking funds to subsidize its operations.
"I just find that there's no way I could, as a selectman of this town, enter into a long-term agreement with the organization who doesn't even know what its own vitals are," Rosenberg said. 
Outside of publicly stating a deficit of at least $200,000 in September, the information has been communicated in pieces over a number of meetings. Town officials began working in earnest in September to develop a plan to continue services and opened talks with Northern Berkshire. 
"On Nov. 17, we were told that Adams Ambulance was not going to be able to make payroll for the week of Nov. 20 and that there probably would not be ambulances rolling for Thanksgiving," said Chairwoman Christine Hoyt. "It is frightening. It's frightening for public officials who want to maintain the safety of the residents. This roller coaster, this yo-yo, all of it, quite honestly has made me ill for weeks. 
"And I have been grateful to the folks, to the employees of Adams Ambulance who still roll to this day when they're called out on a call. I am grateful to all of the public safety folks who are coming together and trying to work on a continuity plan. And I am grateful for our state agencies who have scrambled to make sure that if something should happen and the doors closed at Adams Ambulance before Dec. 31 our communities will be covered."
Ambulance personnel said on Thursday they now have enough to make payroll through December from incoming reimbursements.
There is outstanding billing of about $850,000, though it's not clear how far that dates back. The board was informed on Thursday that AAS is only receiving about 22 percent of what it's billing. It has $80,000 left on the mortgage for its building and has not applied or received a grant in at least three years.
Northern Berkshire's general manager John Meaney Jr. was asked some of the same questions. He said the regional service's budget is about $5 million and is funded 80 percent by reimbursements and 20 percent grants and other revenue, including its car transport service. Northern Berkshire has also received $750,000 in grants over the past three years. 
The regional service has been approved by the state Office of Emergency Services and Department of Public Health to station an ambulance at the Forest Wardens' garage. This will operate much like the station in Williamstown, which also has a dedicated ambulance. Meaney said there are currently eight ambulances in the fleet. 
"Our goal would be to put more staffed units in the town of Adams," he said, adding that the ambulances are rolling "up and down Route 8 all day long" so Adams would be well covered. 
Northern Berkshire has encouraged Adams Ambulance personnel to apply for positions; Adams employees have so far not done so.
Adams Ambulance officials on Thursday presented a plan with some concrete steps to stabilize its health that started with the election of two new board members on Tuesday and authorizing the sale of its building to wipe out its debt. 
Joshua Koch said he and David Norcross would become the co-managers or directors. General manager Sean Sanderson on Wednesday submitted his letter of resignation effective Dec. 4. 
Other steps within the next 90 days include switching billing companies, providing training on writing run reports for more efficient billing, applying for grants, looking at fundraisers and designating a town liaison to improve communications. 
Adams Ambulance has also asked the state to rescind its notification of closure.
"I don't know which direction the board is going to go tonight but what I do know is that whichever way that goes, Adams Ambulance's doors are not going to close," Koch said.
Officials assured the employees repeatedly that their vote was not reflective of the hard work the EMTs have done for decades. But they pointed out potential delays in the state review of the building sale, the letter of notification and getting grants.
Rosenberg at first motioned to allow for a revote prior to Dec. 31 should Adams Ambulance pass muster with the state. Cheshire had included that  condition, said Koch, and he hoped Adams would as well. It did not receive a second. 
"There's too many things that are going to take a long time to come to fruition," said Selectman Joseph Nowak. "It's such a short period of time. Perhaps if we had six months, I'd be willing to make that motion and second it. There's a time constraint here that cannot be met."
Selectman Richard Blanchard said he couldn't make a vote on "sentimentally" when they were talking about medical care. 
The board then voted to go with Northern Berkshire and authorized the town administrator to negotiate a memorandum of understanding. 
Selectman John Duval recused himself from discussion and voting as an immediate family member is an Adams Ambulance employee.

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One Injured in Adams House Fire

By Stephen
ADAMS, Mass. -- One person was injured in a house fire on East Jordan Street near the intersection with Hayer Street on Wednesday morning.
Adams Fire Chief John Pansecchi said the owner of the residence was taken to Berkshire Medical Center by Northern Berkshire EMS with burns from the blaze, which was reported at about 11:15 on Wednesday morning.
"He was able to get the dog and three kids out of the house," John Pansecchi said. "We were able to confirm everyone was out of the house."
The cause of the fire was still under investigation. Pansecchi said he believed it originated with either a wood stove or pellet stove at the residence.
Firefighters from Adams, North Adams, Cheshire and Savoy responded to the scene. Several other departments were ready to respond but were canceled because they were not needed, Pansecchi said.
By about 12:30 on Wednesday afternoon, the fire was mostly under control. Adams Fire Department was repositioning its ladder truck to avoid power lines near the home and extinguish the remaining hot spots.
"There was so much fire when we got here, it was more of an attack from the outside," Pansecchi said. "We couldn't go in. There was too much fire inside. It wasn't safe."
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