Village Ambulance could go broke in May

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Unless something changes, Village Ambulance will be insolvent in May.

That was the report from Win Stuebner, chairman of the ambulance service's board of directors, during the Monday night meeting of the Williamstown Select Board.

"Village has come up on some financial difficulties over the last more than a year," Stuebner said. "After cutting the budget to the bare bones, our revenues are not keeping up with expenses."

He said since 2014, revenues "are off" by about $350,000.

There are several reasons for a significant decline in revenue, he noted, with one significant blow being the gradual implementation of the Affordable Care Act since 2014. The measure substantially increased deductibles for medical care, leaving many unable to afford the fee for an emergency ambulance transport.

There has also been a decline in nontransport calls, in which the ambulance is called, the patient treated, and then the patient declines a ride to the hospital. The ambulance service can't charge the for a call if they don't take anyone to the hospital. These incidents are also largely due to high deductibles, Stuebner said.

"Non-transport calls have nearly doubled," he said. "Not many are aware of the cost, and when they find out, many are unable or unwilling to pay."

The call volume is also down, he added, and when the North Adams Regional Hospital closed back in 2014, transport business from NARH went away as well, another significant drop in revenue.

"We will be insolvent by May unless something changes," Stuebner said.

In May the nonprofit operation will have to issue payroll three times, and all the insurance policies come due.

He noted that the ambulance service is conducting an audit of its billing contractor to be sure the service is properly coding the treatments billed for.

Stuebner said there has been a working group studying the issue, and report should be ready in four to six weeks.

Select Board Chairman Andrew Hogeland noted that the working group is focusing on three options:

- Reduce services provided;

- Work out some sort of subsidy from the town or the fire district;

- Negotiate a regionalization of ambulance services between other ambulance providers nearby.

"Regionalization is something that should be explored," Stuebner said. The working group also proposed that a consultant be brought in, at a cost of about $20,000, to study the ambulance service and evaluate options to stabilize its finances.

The cost of the study would be split between the town, the fire district, Village Ambulance Service and Williams College.

Reach staff writer Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.

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