Officials say EMS fly-car system will be sustainable

Photo by Dennis Phillips Sheriff Jim Quattrone and Jennifer Cresanti, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office fiscal supervisor, discuss the school resource officer contracts with Silver Creek and Forestville central school districts with the Chautauqua County Audit and Control meeting in Mayville.

MAYVILLE — The county’s mobile emergency medical services program — also known as “fly-cars” — is expected to be self sustaining by the end of the year.

John Griffith, county emergency services director, told the Chautauqua County Audit and Control Committee that through the first few weeks of January fly-cars are answering 5.8 calls a day, which is a significant increase since the service went to operating 24 hours, seven days a week at the beginning of the year. He said expenses have stayed the same, but revenues have increased because of the rise in the number of calls the fly-car system is answering. He added that with the revenues fly-cars are generating now, the program should be able to pay for itself with no local share cost and be self sufficient by the end of the year.

“The program is coming into fruition,” Griffith said.

Griffith said it is challenging to budget revenues, which is done on a month by month basis, because some bills are paid for 90 to 120 days. However, he said the numbers he is using to project the future of the fly-car program are conservative estimates.

Pierre Chagnon, Audit and Control Committee chairman, said with the fly-car program in a significant transition by going to 24 hours, seven days a week instead of only being in operation for 12 hours, six days a week, there certainly is hope for the fly-car program following the early results this year.

If the fly-car program progresses to being self sufficient, that is a turn around from earlier results of the system that started in August 2017.

In September, Griffith told the county Public Safety Committee the fly-car program had lost $68,435 between Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2018. Despite the loss of money in 2018, the program in its first year lost $255,000.

For years, the fly-car concept was discussed as the number of volunteer EMTs decreased and the flow of emergency calls increased. A study conducted by a Massachusetts firm in 2016 recommended a county-sponsored emergency response program to assist volunteer responders and commercial response.

Paramedics operate three advanced life support vehicles, which are stationed in Ashville, Arkwright and Falconer. Fly-cars are equipped with cardiac monitoring equipment, pain medication and anticonvulsant medication, among other equipment. The vehicles are positioned to respond to calls in rural areas and the metro area, if needed. The fly-car system was established to provide swift response to 911 calls while supporting volunteer fire service and Alstar EMS.

In other business, Griffith had more good news for the committee as he discussed how he is returning $23,500 to the county’s general fund or savings account. He said $60,000 was allocated in the budget for parking lot improvements at two of the county’s training centers. However, because of milling work done by the county Public Facilities Department, the funds didn’t need to be used. He added to update security at the facilities, they did spend $6,500.

Griffith said he also will use some of the funding to also purchase a higher-grade ambulance for the fly-car program. He said $20,000 was budgeted for the ambulance purchase, but now he would like to spend around $30,000.

Last year, the legislature approved a resolution to establish the fly-car program as a certified ambulance service for the county. Griffith said by adding an ambulance to the system, county emergency services officials will be able to start billing Medicaid for calls. Without the certificate of need that accompanies being a certified ambulance service, county officials cannot bill Medicaid.