COVA Ambulance bids farewell to Orleans County community
First and foremost, we need to say thank you to our dedicated staff that has served the Orleans County and Hamlin communities with pride and integrity. We also need to say thank you to the countless residents for continuing to support your community-based ambulance service throughout the past 43 years.
Central Orleans Volunteer Ambulance has been a non-profit ambulance serving through the federal governments allowance as a 501C3 as well as the New York State Charity Bureau since 1979. What this means:
• COVA is required by federal and state law to be audited by a third party certified public accountant annually.
• Our financial records are required to be available to the public at any given date or time.
• COVA has been run by a board of directors for the past 43 years and the monthly meetings have always been open to anyone who chose to attend.
• COVA is overseen by the New York State Department of State, New York State Charities Bureau and The New York State Department of Health.
• COVA’s financial records are required by state and federal law to be public information.
Over the past 6 months, many members of COVA from years past have approached the current Board of Directors and Administration reiterating similar difficulties trying to work out agreements with the towns and county entities. Over 43 years and several regimes of directors, management, and administration there was a constant battle to get COVA the funding that it deserved.
In early 2020, the administration staff once again went to the towns and begged for their support. With the cost of staffing, ambulances, and equipment on the rise and with insurance reimbursements continuing to decrease there was no way that the agency would survive another five years. Once Covid-19 hit in March 2020, COVA wasn’t going to survive without help.
Over the past three years, COVA continued to meet with the towns and begged the County Legislature for their support and assistance. The agency sent countless letters to our state assemblyman, senators and the governor.
Not one time over these years did a public elected official step into the office to ask questions or to see COVA’s operations. Not once did an official attend the monthly board meetings. COVA’s accountant was not contacted at any time to provide any type of request.
COVA’s final attempt was an official proposal for ambulance services. The board of directors agreed to an oversight board appointed by the towns. This board would work alongside the COVA board and would oversee operational plans and have control of the budgeted municipal funds. After countless attempts the proposal was not considered or viewed by any town official.
A few items to clarify. Over the past three years:
- COVA upgraded two ambulances. Because of constant repairs and maintenance on the older rigs the savings from the upgrade is estimated at $18,000 annually after the new ambulance lease payments.
- COVA received an earmarked donation which had to be used for the ambulance crews. With this we were able to upgrade the crew quarter’s, lower kitchen cabinets, countertops, and the sink. These items, purchased with this donation, were all base models from Home Depot. All labor hours to upgrade the kitchen were donated. This very modest kitchen is still waiting for flooring and upper cabinets as the donation did not cover everything and the funds ran out.
- For a two-week period in September of 2022 paid staffing was removed from midnight to 6 a.m. The agency was able to secure this time frame to be covered by volunteers and fire department drivers. COVA has continued to maintain ambulance services 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
- COVA will continue to work through all of its past due accounts to ensure that all debt owed by COVA is paid in full. This debt does not transfer to Mercy Flight WNY.
As COVA begins its descent into closure the question needs to be asked, what was the reason that for the past 43 years our elected officials chose to not consider our community ambulance an essential service?
Why did they not support COVA in the ’80s when the agency asked the county for money to help with equipment, or in 1992, or in 1998, or in 2012, or in 2018 or now? Were the lives and safety of our residents ever a high priority?
COVA was the front line transporting and providing emergency medical care throughout the Covid pandemic yet when millions of dollars were sent to Orleans County for Covid relief, not one dollar was offered or given to COVA. COVA continued to beg and plead for help.
Unfortunately, the time has come that the COVA board of directors and administration had to make one of the most difficult choices. The unanimous decision was COVA as an entity will dissolve.
After that decision the next step was to find a solution for the community to have an ambulance service if COVA could not continue. COVA is required by state law that the operations would have to be assumed by another non-profit organization. The best viable option was Mercy Flight WNY.
This solution is to allow Mercy Flight WNY the opportunity to come in and take the reins. What that will mean, the 40 ambulance staff members will remain employed, already currently in service as Mercy Flight employees. Our hope is that Mercy Flight will be able to carry on the legacy of the dedicated past and current members that kept COVA & Hamlin ambulances serving their communities.
We truly thank each one of you for your continued support over the past 43 years.
We wish the Orleans County Community the best possible outcome for Emergency Medical Ambulance Services.
“May the wheels of EMS forever roll.”
Jennifer Stilwell, president
Faith Smith, vice president
Anna Tower, secretary/treasurer
Dan Conrad and B.J. Mair, board of directors
Laurie Schwab, chief operating officer
Brandi Fisher, deputy chief