WILLIAMSTOWN -- Village Ambulance, which has struggled with increased costs and de creased revenue since the closing of the North Adams Regional Hospital in March, has a new line of business that could help stabilize the emergency transportation operation.
The nonprofit ambulance service has agreed to provide transportation for non-emergency medical care for students at Williams College while school is in session, with the college paying for the operational cost of doing so.
After operating the service for a while, Village Ambulance officials intend to make it a fee-based service available to residents of Williamstown, New Ashford and Hancock,
"It's very good news for us," said Dr. Erwin Stuebner, president of the Village Ambulance board of directors. "It's also good news for the college -- they've been very enthusiastic -- and good news for the community."
The college agreed to pay for two handicapped-accessible medical transportation vans over a five-year period, and to pay for the drivers' salaries, insurance, fuel costs and the cost of wear on the vehicles.
According to Stephen Klass, vice president of campus life at Williams, when the hospital closed, college officials were trying to deal with a growing need of their students to find transportation for X-rays, doctor appointments, physical therapy and transportation for other medical needs. Then the closing of the hospital made that need more acute.
Meanwhile, the ambulance service was spending more time and fuel taking emergency cases to Pittsfield rather than North Adams, costing them more money and driving a need for more vehicle time and more manpower since the hospital closed. At the same time, the fee-based service of transferring patients to out-of-town hospitals for further treatment disappeared, further stressing the cash flow.
The two entities connected those needs when ambulance employees were on a call at the college. Through chatting with campus security -- who had been providing some of the students with medical transportation -- they each discovered that the two were on either end of the same problem.
A couple of months later, a contract was agreed to and signed on Tuesday.
"This addresses so many things for the college," Klass said. "It will provide support to the campus community, and help a great local non-profit build a whole new line of business that will help the community in other ways."
During the past few years, officials at the school have noticed that fewer students are bringing a car to school, and that the need for medical non-emergency transportation was also rising.
Over the past year, Klass noted, campus security has provided roughly 1,000 medical trips for students, and many others found rides elsewhere.
"We knew we had the need and that it was going to grow, and then the closing of the hospital made what we had been doing untenable," Klass said.
Once the two groups began communicating, he added, "They're response was enthusiastic, professional, and extrem ely well thought-out," Klass said. "It took very little time."
Stuebner said the vans will arrive in mid-August, and once three to five drivers are hired and trained, the service should get started around Aug. 18.
Once the operation is up and running well, Village Ambulance will start looking at how to expand the service.
"I think it will give us a solid platform and stabilize our position," Stuebner said.