Auburn (NY) Approves City-Run Ambulance Service

A large flag hangs off of Auburn City Hall.
Auburn City Hall

Kelly Rocheleau

The Citizen, Auburn, N.Y.

(MCT)

The Auburn City Council has authorized creating a new city-run ambulance service.

In a 4-1 vote along party lines at Thursday’s meeting, the Democratically controlled council approved a resolution to establish a city ambulance department, a move that will terminate Auburn’s longtime relationship with TLC Emergency Medical Services, the current provider, later this year.

The only no vote came from Timothy Locastro, the sole Republican on the council. The vote allows the city manager to establish the EMS service, including acquiring the needed equipment and hiring the necessary personnel. Auburn’s new ambulance program is anticipated to begin Nov. 1.

No financial details for the new ambulance department were included in the resolution, although City Manager Jeff Dygert said during a proposal presentation in May the estimated startup cost was estimated to be around $1 million. He also said at the time he was concerned with TLC’s availability and transparency.

At the first public to be heard portion of the meeting Thursday, Cayuga County Legislator Tim Lattimore said he had concerns with launching a city-run operation. Lattimore, a Republican and former Auburn mayor who is running for a city council seat this fall, said his lawyer has filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the city seeking all documentation on “complaints and problems” regarding TLC’s services, as stated in the resolution authorizing the new service. The request also asks for all “budgets, forecasts or plans” regarding what it will cost the city to operate its own ambulance service.

Lattimore said that having TLC handle ambulance work in Auburn has been “a no-cost situation” for the city.

“I would hope that you would postpone this decision for at least 20 days until the information gets back to us, the public,” he said to the council, noting that such information can reveal the severity of complaints.

Dr. Adam Duckett, Cayuga County coroner and chief medical officer of East Hill Medical Center in Auburn, also spoke and supported the city’s ambulance endeavor.

“It opens (the city) up to collaborations, working with other organizations in the community to bring federal taxpayer dollars to the community to help offset startup costs, and actually redefine how we deliver care,” he said.

Before the vote, Mayor Mike Quill asked Dygert if taxpayer funds would be used for the new service. Dygert replied it would be funded by service fees and “there will not be a tax that is used to maintain” the service.

Councilor Jimmy Giannettino asked Dygert if the city has any current concerns on TLC’s operations. Dygert said there been various times since the beginning of the year that TLC has “been unable to meet the needs within the city,” and mutual aid help had to be called. He said that happened 19 times in January, 28 in February, 27 in March, 36 calls in April and 61 in May.

Later, Dygert said the city received an opinion from the New York Conference of Mayors saying Auburn can’t have a multi-year contract with an ambulance service, which it had previously done with TLC.

Councilor Debby McCormick expressed support for the city-run coverage, saying the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the need for the change and the collaborations the city could start with this could prompt changes to how health care is handled in the city.

“This is a very critical and important road that we’re going to take, and I wholeheartedly support it,” she said.

Quill, Giannettino and Councilor Terry Cuddy all expressed support for the change.

Locastro said he wasn’t against the idea of changing the ambulance service, but believes TLC does “a great job.” He said he would need to see an independent study on the proposal before he would support it.

“If it looks good, I’ll support it. But as of right now, until I get that study, I’m not going to support it,” he said.

The city’s relationship with TLC goes back to 2006. TLC has been contracted to run Auburn’s ambulance coverage via a certificate of need the city got from the state not long before TLC was brought on. The contract between the two entities had been extended multiple times since mid-2018.

The city issued a request for service proposals from additional providers in late 2019. Dygert gave a presentation on the city-controlled ambulance concept in February 2020, noting at the time officials hadn’t yet looked at provider proposals that were turned in. The city-run ambulance proposition was then sidelined due to COVID-19 until Dygert brought it back up in May 2021.

Under that updated plan, Dygert said, Auburn’s ambulance service would have 25 employees, including full-time paramedics and EMTs, with wages and benefits meant to attract and retain workers.

Lon Fricano, TLC’s director of operations, emailed council members earlier this month arguing against the city ambulance proposal. He defended TLC’s quality of service and said cost structures are too high for city-operated ambulance coverage to not incur taxpayer subsidy.

Despite the disagreement, both sides committed to an orderly and safe transition. At Thursday’s meeting, the council also approved a resolution extending the city’s present short-term contract with TLC — currently set to expire at the end of June — through Oct. 31. Locastro was again the sole no vote.

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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