Buffalo takes action to force Rural Metro to improve ambulance responses

Emergency Medical Services Board acts after News 4 Investigates reveals pattern of slow ambulance response

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo took steps Monday that could lead to fines against Rural Metro for slow ambulance response times.

The city’s Emergency Medical Services Board voted unanimously to serve the company a “notice of inquiry.” The company will then have 30 days to respond to complaints of poor response times and too few ambulances assigned to the city under its five year contract with Rural Metro.

That contract also spells out required response times for three categories of calls.

But as News 4 Investigates has reported in recent weeks, Rural Metro has failed to meet response times for the most serious calls going back to November when it signed a contract to exclusively handle emergency medical calls in the city.

“This is not something we relish. This is not something that we want to do,” said Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield, who heads the EMS board.

“From the beginning of the contract until now there’s been a lack of compliance with the terms and conditions of the contract,” said Whitfield.

Thomas Maxian, AMR/Rural Metro’s regional director attended Monday’s meeting. After the board’s vote he spoke to reporters and promised that service in Buffalo would improve. “We know that we have not been the partner that the city has needed,” said Maxian. “We’re disappointed that it got to this point.”

Whitfield says “sufficient time” has been given for Rural Metro to fix the response time problem.

Rural Metro has 30 days to respond to the city’s “notice of inquiry” which could result in fines against the ambulance company. Rural Metro was purchased by American Medical Response and is in the process of converting to that company.

“We’re not disappointed with the action the board or the city has taken.  We’re disappointed in our performance, and we need to rectify that going forward,” said Maxian.

He said the company is conducting “mass recruiting” in an effort to beef up the number of employees. Maxian said Rural Metro will focus resources on its primary customers, with the City of Buffalo being the largest. The company also has contracts to serve the Towns of Hamburg, West Seneca and Cheektowaga.

As Maxian outlined in an interview with News 4 Investigates last week, the company has already put nursing homes and hospitals on notice in towns outside of Buffalo that they are unable to do non-emergency transports any longer.

“We’re not going to take a resource away from the City of Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Town of Hamburg to go answer a call in some place like Ransomville or the Town of Amherst or the Town of Clarence.”

If there is an emergency Maxian said Rural Metro would respond under the county’s mutual aid system.

“One of the great things about AMR (American Medical Response) coming here is we have the capital to recapitalize the region and we are going to empower our people to do what they need to do,” said Maxian.

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