By Jeanne Sager
HURLEYVILLE The ambulance corps of Sullivan County are going to court.
A legal action prompted by the only privately owned corps based here in the county has named as defendants each non-profit corps as well as the Monticello Raceway and Transcare New York (formerly MetroCare), a private company from Brooklyn which works within the countys borders, and the county itself.
Hurleyvilles MobileMedic is looking for an injunction against the countys 911 center, stopping dispatchers from sending ambulance services into any town, village or fire district where they dont hold the primary operating authority, except in cases of mutual aid.
Noted specifically are the Village of Monticello, towns of Bethel and Thompson and the Neversink Fire District.
MobileMedic, and its parent company Sullivan ParaMedicine, currently hold contracts in the village, the Town of Bethel and the Loch Sheldrake, Fallsburg and Neversink fire districts.
By dispatching another ambulance corps, MobileMedic owner Albee Bochman said the county is interfering with the right to trade, free trade.
This is ludicrous, he said. What right do they have to interfere with your right, the towns right, to choose who you want to respond?
The legal action, drawn up by attorney Bradley Pinsky, states that the fact that one ambulance is closer than Mobilemedic does not mean that such ambulances response time will be faster than Mobilemedic or that the level of care it provides is better than Mobilemedic.
Yes, you would say on its face, Doesnt the closest unit concept make sense? Bochman said. But that isnt the test in our industry they might not know the roads or be who you want to respond.
The action contends that the county should not be permitted to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the various towns, villages, fire districts and fire departments that contract with Mobilemedic, when Mobilemedic is available to respond to emergencies in such areas.
Its against New York State statute, Bochman said statute that allows a town or village or fire district to contract out its rescue services. And Sullivan County is the only municipality in the region that works this way, he said.
County Manager Dan Briggs said Bochman is a nice guy and wants the same thing the county wants to care for the citizens.
Our policy, he said, is to dispatch the closest available unit. . . . Our concern, as is Albees, is for the welfare of the citizenry of this county.
The challenge, Briggs said, will be answered in court, and the county will act accordingly.
But this is a county system thats been working for years, said one local ambulance corps member.
The system we have right now is a very good compromise that works very well, said Town of Liberty Volunteer Ambulance Corps EMS Administrator Barry Cooperstein. Its not perfect, but it works.
The changes that would come about if the plaintiff won would most likely not improve it, it would hurt it, it would hinder it . . . he said.
The county has a great system, Cooperstein repeated. People get in an ambulance in a relatively short amount of time considering the size, the geographic size, of our area.
The action presented by Bochman does not include criteria for either mileage or time that an ambulance will have to travel to reach a patient.
In towns where other corps are the primary authority, this will have little effect.
TOLVAC has primary authority in Liberty, Cooperstein said. But it will affect TOLVACs mutual aid calls. And it has the potential to affect nearly every other corps in the county, as well as fire departments which handle rescue services.
Bochmans legal action also asks the court for other relief deemed just and proper.
The contention is that the countys actions, termed illegal in court papers drawn up by Pinsky, have caused significant financial injury and irreparable harm to the Hurleyville company.
Bochman said he just wants his contracts honored by the county his complaint is not with the other ambulance corps.
I have a legal action against the County of Sullivan and Sullivan County 911, thats it, he said. Since the judge said he believes this is going to affect the other ambulance corps, I must name them.
Its not a suit against the volunteers, Bochman reiterated. Its strictly against the county.
We had to take it to this level because, for the past three years, they have not listened to our letters and our phone calls . . . and I had to name everyone. I had to give them a chance to speak.
Cooperstein, who said he will know more about the situation later this week, said only that changing the countys dispatch system may cause more harm than good.
You may end up with poor service, you may end up with ambulance corps closing their doors because of the costs of this, he said.
The corps and the county are scheduled to be in court Thursday morning to show evidence that the injunction requested by Bochman should not be granted.