Fly-Car Mobile System Still Losing Funds

From left, Mike Volpe, county senior paramedic, John Griffith, county emergency services director, discuss the fly-car mobile emergency services system with the Chautauqua County Legislature Public Safety Committee Wednesday. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

The county’s mobile emergency medical services program — also known as “fly-cars” –is still losing money, but is improving as time goes by.

On Wednesday, John Griffith, county emergency services director, told the Chautauqua County Legislature Public Safety Committee that year-to-date the fly-car system has lost $68,435. He said from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, the mobile emergency medical service earned $289,891 in profits and had expenses of $358,326.

Despite the loss of money, Griffith said every month they are receiving more calls and are becoming more efficient. He said year-to-date, they’ve received 1,026 calls. He added by saying they are going to areas to provide medical services where they didn’t go before.

“I feel more confident in the program than I did last March or April,” Griffith said referencing a meeting with the Audit and Control Committee in April. “I believe the system will eventually break even.”

Griffith said the Chautauqua County Fire Advisory Board, Chautauqua County Fire Chiefs Association and Chautauqua County Emergency Medical Services Council approve of the fly-car system. The fly-car system started in Chautauqua County in August 2017. In the first year, the program lost $255,000.

For years, the fly-car concept was discussed as the number of volunteer EMTs decreased and the flow of emergency calls increased. A study conducted by a Massachusetts firm in 2016 recommended a county-sponsored emergency response program to assist volunteer responders and commercial response.

Paramedics operate three advanced life support vehicles, which are stationed in Ashville, Arkwright and Gerry. Fly-cars are equipped with cardiac monitoring equipment, pain medication and anticonvulsant medication, among other equipment. The vehicles are positioned to respond to calls in rural areas and the metro area, if needed. The fly-car system was established to provide swift response to 911 calls while supporting volunteer fire service and Alstar EMS.

Griffith also talked to the committee about a resolution the legislature will vote on next week to establish a certified ambulance service for the county. He said by adding an ambulance to the system, county emergency services officials will be able to start billing Medicaid for calls. Currently, without the certificate of need that accompanies being a certified ambulance service, county officials cannot bill Medicaid.

If the county approves the resolution, Griffith said the county can be certified by the start of 2019. He said it would only cost about $6,500 to put an active ambulance in place, with no change in personnel.

Griffith said he is also proposing for the fly-car system to operate from 12 hours a day, six days a week to a 24-hour, seven days a week program. He said to add more hours wouldn’t increase his budget, but didn’t want to go into detail before George Borrello, county executive, releases his tentative 2019 county budget during the legislature meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.

Griffith said hopefully going to a 24-hour operation will help increase response time to calls in the county. He said some emergency calls aren’t being answered by emergency medical service for 35-40 minutes. He added the biggest reason for the lack of response time is the lack of volunteers to drive ambulances.

“We have to have a better system in place,” he said.