WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Village Ambulance Service took delivery of a new ambulance Friday morning to replace an older model on which the engine failed. The old model, a 2007 Ford, had just returned from a trip to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield when it "died."
The new ambulance, a 2010 Chevrolet, had been used as a demonstrator by the dealer, Yankee Fire and Rescue of Palmer, and was immediately available. The purchase was facilitated by a finance package put together by Williamstown Savings and the Hoosac Savings Banks.
Delivery was made by Keith Walker, president of Yankee, and accepted by Cory Thurston, board president of Village Ambulance.
The emergency ambulance replacement came just as Village Ambulance launched the nonprofit’s 2013 Member ship campaign, mailing 5,555 brochures to the residents of Williamstown, Hancock and New Ashford, towns which depend on VAS for emergency medical transportation.
Renewal forms had no sooner begun arriving back at the 30 Water St. office when the EMTs reported the engine in their 2007 ambulance had given up after nearly 140,000 miles. The garage reported: "A rod went through the engine block."
That is the mechanical equivalent of a fatal heart attack, and the loss of one of the three vehicles VAS keeps on the road set off a frantic search for a replacement and more important, a way to pay for it.
The VAS was already running close to break-even. The costs of government-imposed operating regulations have been increasing faster than the fees ambulances are allowed to charge. And, changes in Medicare rules and regulations have reduced ambulance service revenues across the nation.
Nevertheless, VAS, which has been led by a new management team for the last year, had been holding its own. New operating procedures and financial policies had proven effective, but there was no cash reserve available to meet the $100,000 to $150,000 needed to replace an ambulance.
The VAS board’s executive committee was determined to maintain the quality and effectiveness of patient services the communities have grown to expect. Last Monday, the committee authorized the immediate replacement of the ailing ambulance.
Fortunately the 2010 ambulance was located and delivery arranged for last week. VAS employees were at work on the new rig Friday installing medical supplies and equipment and putting on snow tires.
"We were extremely fortunate to obtain an ambulance so quickly," said VAS president Thurston. "It would have taken two to three months to order a new unit and get it delivered. Dealers don’t just have these sitting around on showroom floors. Now we have to pay for it. We hope that this year’s membership contributions will reflect the faith of the members in our ability to provide fast and effective medical transportation."
Village is already in the exploratory stages of a capital campaign to replenish funds depleted by this emergency ambulance replacement and by the downward spiral of the national economy in general and the health care system in particular. The service had been using the income from capital funds to buy new ambulances, but in the last few years, that income had dwindled and the fund needs to be built back up.