Mercy Flight expects to take over COVA on Sunday

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 November 2022 at 10:50 am

Future uncertain whether Mercy or Monroe will be main provider

Photos by Tom Rivers: Mike Gugliuzza, director of medical operations for Mercy Flight EMS, said the organization expects to take over COVA on Sunday at 12:01 a.m., with nearly all of the COVA staff becoming Mercy Flight employees. Mercy will provide service in central Orleans for at least the short-term until the town officials approve a contract with an ambulance provider. The Town of Barre already has signed an agreement with Monroe Ambulance for 2023.

ALBION – Mercy Flight EMS said it expects it will take over for COVA beginning Sunday at 12:01 a.m., with nearly all of COVA’s 40-plus staff becoming Mercy Flight employees. That doesn’t include the COVA administration, who will remain with the COVA organization and work to collect unpaid bills and help with other tasks with the transition.

Mercy Flight will handle billing and other administration beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday.

However, it remains unclear whether Mercy Flight will be the primary ambulance provider for the four central Orleans towns after Jan. 1.

The four towns – Barre, Albion, Gaines and Carlton – have formed a seven-town block with Clarendon, Murray and Kendall to negotiate ambulance services. Those towns have a contract proposal with Monroe Ambulance where that Rochester-based provider would keep an ambulance in Albion and Holley. The company would be paid a $200,000 subsidy from the seven towns collectively to maintain ambulance services in the seven towns. Barre was the first of the seven towns to sign the contract on Wednesday with the other towns expected to approve the agreement in the next week to 10 days.

Mercy Flight would like to be considered as the provider, said Mike Gugliuzza, director of medical operations for Mercy Flight EMS.

He attended Thursday evening’s Orleans County EMS Task Force meeting. He said Mercy Flight will provide service to central Orleans until at least Jan. 1. If the towns choose Monroe, Mercy Flight would “bow out” when Monroe is ready, Gugliuzza said.

Mercy Flight, which provide ambulance services in Genesee County out of a base in Batavia, wants to ensure there are ambulance services in central Orleans while the towns decide on the ambulance provider. Mercy Flight also wants to ensure the COVA paramedics and EMTs stay have jobs. Mercy Flight has offered the COVA workers positions with Mercy Flight at its other operations in Western New York if Monroe takes over central Orleans. Monroe already has the contract for eastern Orleans – Clarendon, Murray and Kendall.

Barre Town Supervisor Sean Pogue praised Mercy Flight for filling the gap in coverage for central Orleans and for hiring the COVA employees.

“I commend you for that,” Pogue said during the EMS Task Force. “Thank you very much.”

Sean Pogue, Barre town supervisor, speaks during an Orleans County EMS Task Force meeting on Thursday evening in the legislative chambers of the Orleans County Office Building. Pogue commended Mercy Flight EMS for filling a void with the impending closure of COVA.

Mercy Flight also would seek a subsidy from the towns but that number wasn’t available on Thursday. Gugliuzza said the organization has worked quickly to provide services for central Orleans. Mercy Flight is open to providing service in eastern Orleans as well, Gugliuzza said.

In the immediate future, Mercy Flight is planning to have two staffed ambulances out of Albion, including an overnight paid crew. That could go to three or four ambulances if Mercy Flight secures a longer-term contract.

“If we know long-term that we’ll be here, we can ramp up for additional vehicles,” he said.

Richard Remley, the Albion town supervisor, said Monroe has a plan to meet the needs of the community. The towns are looking at a one-year contract to allow the town leaders to evaluate the organization’s performance with response times and service. Monroe would start on Jan. 1 if the new contract.

John Caufield, chief operating officer for Monroe Ambulance, said the company has 27 ambulances with 18 or 19 typically in service. Monroe can draw from ambulances based in Brockport and Greece to meet higher demand in Orleans County when needed.

Monroe will evaluate data throughout the year to have more resources available during peak call times. He said he expects as the service develops Monroe will have a supervisor assigned to the seven-town block in Orleans County who would operate in a fly car with basic life support services.

Remley said he’s certain at least six of the seven towns are ready to approve the contract with Monroe. The terms of the agreement say if even one town doesn’t agree, the contract is null and void. Remley said the agreement could be re-evaluated if one of the towns doesn’t sign on.

The seven towns will need to contribute $200,000 annually to Monroe with each share based on ambulance call volume. The contract includes the following compensation from the towns: Albion, $84,400; Barre, $8,000; Carlton, $14,800; Clarendon, $18,800; Gaines, $24,600; Kendall, $18,000; and Murray, $30,600.

The towns currently don’t pay anything for ambulance services. Albion, which would have the biggest bill, meets at 5 p.m. Monday to vote on whether to approve the contract.

Jack Welch, the county’s chief administrative officer, said EMS services are going through a change, especially in rural areas across the state and the nation.

“Essentially this is about volunteerism and the volunteerism is declining,” he said. “We are transitioning to more of a paid base.”

Kendall Fire Department will cease its volunteer ambulance on Dec. 31. Kendall is the last volunteer fire department in the county running an ambulance service.