Bethel Corps Under Fire for Decision to Go With MobileMedic
By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE May 2, 2000 -- The often divisive issue of volunteer ambulance corps versus paid commercial paramedic services flared up again at Thursday nights Town of Bethel board meeting in Kauneonga Lake.
At issue was the Bethel Volunteer Ambulance Corps decision to contract with Hurleyville-based MobileMedic, a for-profit ambulance service, for all mutual aid calls. Citing mutual aid responses that were handled by allegedly inexperienced crews, the corps dropped the use of other local volunteer corps in favor of MobileMedic.
Everybody knows we have a shortage of help, said corps President Ken Crumley, Jr. But were very patient-oriented. [Our decision] was never intended to slight any corps.
But, after reading a report of the corps decision in a local paper, apparently some people did feel slighted, and a group of concerned members of the Jeffersonville First Aid Squad, led by Sullivan County EMS Council President Sue Ridley of Youngsville, attended Thursdays meeting to voice those concerns.
I took great offense to some statements that were made, said Ridley to the town board. Some of us have been negligent in our responsibilities, but we need to stick together. I support the volunteers.
Bethel corps members Crumley and Captain Gerry Sarosy argued that MobileMedic would be able to provide a level of service that local volunteers could not.
Lets not say that just because we have a [emergency medical technician] card we are an EMT, said Sarosy.
All EMTs are certified to the same standards, replied Ridley. Those people that ride with volunteer agencies are just as qualified as those with a commercial service.
The bottom line for a business is financial gain, she added. That makes a difference between volunteers and career/paid professionals.
Though not present at the meeting, MobileMedic owner Albee Bockman disagreed with Ridleys statements when interviewed by the Democrat yesterday.
The difference is . . . that we are able to hand-select [employees], he stated. They [volunteer corps] basically accept everybody.
And, he added, volunteer corps members no matter how qualified are not on the job as much as career paramedics.
This is not a hobby, he said of his Advanced Life Support (ALS) service. We do it every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And, said Bockman, a billing problem occurs if he or one of his employees rides along with a volunteer crew, as opposed to answering the call solely with a MobileMedic ambulance. In the former case, he must bill the patient for services rendered, but in the latter, he can bill an insurance company directly.
MobileMedics rig is sometimes housed in the Bethel corps taxpayer-funded building, which was a source of controversy Thursday, but both Crumley and Bockman stated that no extra taxpayer money is used, since the vacant building is normally kept heated and wired for electricity and phone service.
It is in the best interest of the community [that we be close by], said Bockman, who estimated he could be anywhere within Bethels district in 5-10 minutes even from his other base in Monticello.
Bockman felt the involvement of the Jeff corps illustrates the competition he has with them, Liberty and Monticello, all of which bill for services. Liberty can also now provide ALS services.
Its sad but factual, he remarked. I believe a lot of volunteers have lost the purpose for which they serve their communities. Its of a competitive nature for the greedy dollar. Theyre not the volunteer system we knew years ago.
Still, Bockman said he maintains good relationships including contractual relationships with the majority of the ambulance corps, fire departments and police departments in Sullivan County.
However, Sarosy doesnt even think the issue is about Bockman or Bethel.
This has nothing to do with the ambulance corps, he said during the meeting. This has to do with me. Unfortunately, Bill [Boland] doesnt like me.
Boland, a six-year Bethel Ambulance Corps member, was suspended recently after he took Sarosy to task for his leadership of the corps. He did not take kindly to Sarosys accusation that evening that he had lied to people about Sarosy.
These people [corps leaders] are running this corps like their own little playground, said Boland, who was supported by Ridley and others. I am not attacking the corps. I have problems with the executive board.
The quality of care in this town has decreased, he added. Its wrong, and you cant continue to do this.
Both sides, however, acknowledged that the 136 hours it takes to become a certified EMT is discouraging to many a potential paramedic, and though the Bethel Ambulance Corps has 16 active members, something has to be done to maintain and/or improve emergency care for Bethel district residents.
But Crumley still defended the corps choice to go with MobileMedic.
It is our decision to make, he said. We could have very easily said, Lets be #3 [the third volunteer corps in the county to shut down recently], but we didnt. Our whole concern is with our patients care.
The town board is reviewing the matter, though it is unclear if they will take any action.