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AMR s Closing Creates Void in Mass.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- At least two companies are eyeing the city s ambulance market, hoping to fill the vacuum being created by the looming departure of American Medical Response (AMR), one of only two companies that currently provide ambulance service in Pittsfield.

Two local companies say that they see an opportunity, and others are gathering information.

County Ambulance Service -- the only other ambulance company that contracts with the city -- is expanding its current fleet of five ambulances. It initially plans to add three ambulances and up to a dozen employees to handle the void left when AMR shuts down in early December.

In addition, CRT Cabulance, which provides transport for people with disabilities, is investing more than $400,000 to build its fleet and add employees in preparation for becoming a licensed paramedic-capable ambulance operation.

Meanwhile, Alert Ambulance Service, based in Chicopee, said it has contacted acting Pittsfield Fire Chief James Sullivan to inquire about the rates and contracting process.

AMR announced last week it planned to close its operation as of Dec. 31. Officials cited declining reimbursements from health insurance companies and Medicare and the increased expense of doing business.

AMR a catalyst

Jim Regan, general manager of CRT Cabulance and Transport the People, a local limousine and airport shuttle service, said his company has been thinking about expanding with an ambulance business for quite a while. AMR leaving was like a catalyst to get us going, but we d already been thinking about it for about a year.

Regan, who was general manager of Berkshire Ambulance Service before it was bought out by AMR, would also run the new venture, Central Berkshire Ambulance.

We re in the application stage right now, he said. We re going to start with three ambulances.

He said the company is in the process of deciding which models to buy and is interviewing applicants for the 15 to 20 positions that will be created when the new operation launches.

Some of the applicants are AMR employees, who were notified of the 35 layoffs early last week.

Brian Andrews, president of County Ambulance Service, said CRT will have a long road before it can get a slice of the city s emergency transport business.

Starting an ambulance service from scratch is no easy task, he said. There was a national company here for 10 years, and they found it difficult to share the workload. If somebody else can do a better job than AMR, we ll see.

Sullivan, the acting fire chief, said that everything right now is very preliminary as far as who might end up with a part of the city s ambulance service contract.

Regan said the goal is to get the initial basic level license in December to start simple medical transport jobs. Then, after several months, qualify with state inspectors to attain the full paramedic emergency service operator s license.

Sullivan said that there are 4,000 to 5,000 emergency medical calls in Pittsfield every year, and 90 percent of the clients end up being transported by ambulance. Each transport costs $500 to $1,500, most of which is typically paid by the health insurance carrier.

Anthony Suffriti, a manager for Alert Ambulance Service, said the Chicopee-based company is keeping a watch on the situation, as other ambulance companies probably are.

Alert operates 13 bases in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

We always look at options that could benefit the company and the community, Suffriti said. And we are looking at Pittsfield to see if it s something we might be interested in.

Other players in the industry could also be looking at the situation, he added.

Anybody s eyes are going to open when they hear an ambulance service is moving out of town, Suffriti said.

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