RICHFORD — Richford will not be partnering with AmCare and Butler Medical Transport, according to multiple sources close to the negotiations.
The potential deal was first broached last summer, and according to Clement Rogers, the director of AmCare, a meeting was then held in February between AmCare and the Richford Selectboard.
“Walter Krul (AmCare’s former director), Will Rosenberg (Chief Operating Officer, Butler Medical Transport) and myself, all went up there for a meeting and talked to them about what we had to offer and what we would propose to do and what the cost would be,” says Rogers.
In an interview with The Messenger on Wednesday, Rosenberg says he received a call shortly after the meeting that the selectboard had voted to move ahead with negotiations and wanted a short turnaround on a contract.
“We spent a lot of time with our counsel and turned around an agreement that Friday that met everyone’s needs,” he said.
He says the offer was for a 10-year guaranteed contract to staff Richford’s ambulance 24/7, as well as interview and hire any current employees that were interested, and bring in additional staff.
“We agreed to — for a fair-market value — take their ambulances and supplies off their hands and give them credit for those and we agreed to additionally provide backup services from our Sheldon location. We would also take all the medical billing off their hands and do all the patient revenue,” he says.
Furthermore, Rosenberg says that Butler offered to provide higher wages and make sure all residents of Richford that were transported were brought back to town by AmCare.
“At the time, they indicated to us that they couldn’t take their ambulance out of service to go get a patient from the hospital, ‘cause then they would be left without coverage,” he says.
“We heard nothing from them other than they had internal discussions, and then about a week and a half after the selectboard election, I was notified they weren’t going to proceed forward,” says Rosenberg.
Richford Selectboard Chair Linda Collins says she’s not sure the town was ever going to partner with AmCare.
“They came to a meeting to present us a plan and then a contract, which we sent to our lawyer and he pointed out several things that wouldn’t be in our best interest so we never had any more discussion with them, at least to my knowledge,” she said.
Collins says that she was not chair at the time, and although she asked, she never saw the contract, only the lawyer’s response letter.
Rosenberg says that if there was something in the contract that wasn’t in their best interest, Richford never expressed it to Butler or AmCare.
“They never responded to the contract, I’ve done lots of contract negotiations in my 20 years in leadership and the first draft is never the final draft, so if there was a concern, it was never brought forward to us,” he says.
Selectboard member Sherry Paquette says money is only part of the issue.
“The majority of the town’s people and the employees along with the selectboard wanted to keep it locally run,” she says.
Richford currently has two ambulances, one of which reportedly has mechanical issues. In addition, according to sources close to the ambulance service, four members of the 11-member ambulance crew resigned their positions in mid-April.
“I think people move on … people advance, people change their mind on where they want to be located. It happens everywhere but it seems to be ok,” says Paquette.
Collins says,”Just for clarification, both of our ambulances are on the road, we are making return trips, the four who quit had not even worked for us for a year and only worked on weekends and their shifts are covered.”
According to Rosenberg, AmCare currently owns six ambulances. In the proposal for Richford, Butler was going to buy Richford’s two ambulances.
When informed of the loss of staff he says, “You don’t need to be in EMS, you don’t need to be a newspaper reporter, you don’t need to do anything to realize that if you have a staff of x, and you lose y, it’s a lot harder to provide the same service.”
In the meantime, Paquette says that Richford currently has members of its fire crew driving for them.
“We’ve got two on the fire department that are already taking the EMT course and two more that are taking the EMT course starting up so we’re doing really well,” she says.
While she says the deal is currently off the table, neither Richford nor Butler are closing the door on future talks.
“I couldn’t predict the future even if I tried to. Whenever I think I know what’s going on it really changes,” says Paquette.
Rosenberg says, “We never shut any door. The door is always open. We have open communication and while I think it’s admirable what the select board in Richford has tried to accomplish they’re trying to put a bandaid on a situation that inevitably is going to fail and I would hate to see it fail and result in a loss of life or limb when there’s an alternative there.”
Rogers says that some of Richford’s reasoning for not signing the contract might have to do with pride.
“I fully understand that. I was on the other side. I managed the Enosburg ambulance for a few years. I was with Montgomery rescue. I was one of the people that promoted Montgomery getting their own ambulance,” he says.
He points out that many residents see AmCare only as a big for-profit ambulance service here to make money.
“It’s never really been Walt Krul’s model. His model has always been ‘Let’s service the community the best way that we can and provide the best service that we can,’” says Rogers.
“The question has to be asked to anyone rhetorically. If it’s your family that has a life threatening emergency and no one comes, or a qualified crew doesn’t come or doesn’t come timely enough, any one of those three scenarios, can you live with the fact that you stood in the way of change?”