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Gouverneur resident encounters tension in attempt to start ambulance service

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GOUVERNEUR — A former member of Gouverneur Rescue Squad is trying to start a backup ambulance service for the southern part of St. Lawrence County, but feels thwarted.

“I think it would be beneficial for another ambulance service to transport patients out of Gouverneur Hospital and Clifton-Fine Hospital,” said Michael J. Chambers. “I might be able to create some jobs and hire local. I just feel I’m not getting anywhere.”

Mr. Chambers, who said he has been involved with emergency medical services for more than a decade, wanted to start a business in a field he loves and provide volunteers with some payment to keep them involved.

He has garnered the written support of Gouverneur Hospital and several towns.

The Gouverneur Rescue Squad has contacted some of the municipalities Mr. Chambers has approached for letters of support for his operating certificate application to the Regional Emergency Medical Services Committee, asking them not to back his business plan.

While the idea of another service sounds like a good thing for hospitals and patients, the community could end up shortchanged if business is splintered away from existing services and undermines their financial stability, resulting in worse care, said Mark A. Deavers, director of operations for Gouverneur Rescue Squad.

In addition to Gouverneur Rescue, which has paid and volunteer members, the southern end of the county is served by Guilfoyle Ambulance Services, Seaway Valley Ambulance and R.B. Lawrence Ambulance, which are private companies.

“Realistically, he’s got to prove the need,” Mr. Deavers said. “There’s no need there. We’re answering the calls.”

According to squad records, during March it took 12 to 29 minutes for an ambulance to leave the building for 28.1 percent of calls, Mr. Chambers said.

Those calls included inter-facility transports and are dependent on the convenience of the hospital, Mr. Deavers said.

Emergency calls are handled quickly by the rescue squad, St. Lawrence County Emergency Services Director Michael J. LeCuyer said.

“Their average response time is one to three minutes,” he said.

Mr. Chambers said he understood why the existing ambulance services would not want more competition, but he said he has also felt resistance from government institutions and politicians, with the exception of Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River.

To bolster his application, Mr. Chambers asked county Emergency Services through a Freedom of Information Law request to provide him with all dates, run times and mutual aid requests for the last three years for 17 towns in addition to Gouverneur Hospital and Clifton-Fine Hospital.

“I have to show they’re not getting out in time and who they’re calling for mutual aid,” Mr. Chambers said. “I just don’t think the county wants to do this.”

The county provided Mr. Chambers with some information, but Mr. LeCuyer said the scope of his request went beyond the office’s normal routine.

“It’s not something we do as a normal business record,” Mr. LeCuyer said. “It’s not a document we would generate.”

To tease out individual calls might take several months, and the county would charge Mr. Chambers for the work, he said.

As for interagency transports, Gouverneur Rescue was unable to handle 23 from September through December 2013, possibly because it was busy with other calls, Mr. Deavers said.

Even if the squad and private ambulance services were not doing their jobs well, any agency with a certificate of need would have the right to correct any deficiencies before another certificate of need was issued, Mr. Deavers said.

Mr. Chambers said the rescue squad asked him to resign, but Mr. Deavers said he beat them to the punch.

“We did not ask him to resign. We were going to because he violated our bylaws,” which have a non-compete clause, Mr. Deavers said.

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