Farmington freshman state Rep. Mike Demicco said he went to Hartford early this year to voice the concerns of the town. In that spirit, he introduced his first bill, No. 5999, An Act Concerning the Provision of Local Ambulance Services.
He did so according to one of the Town Council’s strategic goals for 2012 and at the request of Farmington Director of Fire and Rescues Services Mary-Ellen Harper.
The bill calls for the statutes to be changed to allow towns to choose their ambulance service.
“In the ’70s whoever got to the patient first got the job,” Demicco explained, referring to the unregulated period that is sometimes called “the wild west.”
After that the state stepped in, created territories, or primary service areas, and assigned coverage of the area to an ambulance company - forever.
“Right now it’s kind of like a monopoly,” Demicco said. “Whatever company gets the PSA, they’ve got the rights and unless they want to give up the PSA or sell it to somebody, there’s nothing a town can do about it.”
The only exception is if the town can prove to the Department of Public Health that the ambulance provider is jeopardizing the health and safety of residents in the service area.
And while Farmington is not arguing about the performance of its current service provider, American Medical Response, Harper said that ambulance service is the one thing the town has no control over.
“Municipalities everywhere are trying to do things faster, better, cheaper but on this our hands are tied,” she said. “We’re not complaining about the quality of care, just that we as a town should have the right to evaluate that and enter into a contract with the provider that best fits our needs.
AMR has been the town’s designated ambulance provider for more than 20 years, according to Harper and rights to the territory were sold to the business after changing hands between two others.
Up until last year, Farmington and Avon had a joint contract with AMR and also shared ambulances. This year Farmington has its own contract, with one designated ambulance in town all the time and one 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday – an upgrade from previous service. And while the town can negotiate with AMR over the terms of the contract, it doesn’t have much bargaining power.
“Last year we wanted an extra ambulance in town for better coverage. They pull the price out of the air and that’s it. Why is it that ambulance service is a guaranteed monopoly?” Harper asked.
There are a few other possibilities, should the legislation pass and Farmington be allowed to consider other providers. The town could get bids from other ambulance companies, opt for a hospital-based ambulance service or the fire department, which already runs medical calls and has many EMTs on staff who serve as first responders, could take over.
While support for the legislation may be driven mostly by flexibility and finance in Farmington, in South Windsor, it’s also driven by grief.
There, residents are mourning the death of Hannah Patrie, a 15-year-old girl who collapsed at South Windsor High School during a dance camp last summer. While another student called 911, the girl was not transported to a hospital for an hour afterward and eventually died.
At issue may have been the lack of available ambulances and though the town had requested it at least a year prior, the ambulance company only provided basic – not advanced – life support services.
Still, while South Windsor has petitioned the state Office of Emergency Medical Services to be allowed to change its ambulance provider, it has not received permission.
Rep. William Aman represents South Windsor and along with Rep. Rosa C. Rebimbas, 70th Dist., Rep. David K. Labriola, 131st Dist. and Sen. Joan V. Hartley, 15th Dist., joined Demicco in sponsoring the bill.
“What my bill proposes to do is give towns the option of finding other companies that do the job more to their satisfaction,” Demicco said.
The bill was introduced Jan. 24 and has been referred to the Public Health Committee, of which Demicco is a member.