Ambulance service gives Youngstown an ultimatum

Photo by Henry Shorr / The Jambar

By Henry Shorr

American Medical Response, the company which provides emergency-response services in Youngstown, is asking $1.8 million to supplement its profits.

The Youngstown Neighborhood Leaders, a consortium of block club presidents and neighborhood groups from around Youngstown, has hosted three community meetings regarding this topic. The group’s final meeting was Nov. 30 at St. Patrick’s church on Oak Hill.

The city of Youngstown doesn’t pay AMR for its service currently, however, the for-profit ambulance company does get reimbursement for its work from insurance providers.

When AMR submitted its proposal for ambulatory coverage for Youngstown this year — the only company to do so — it asked for a $750,000-a-year subsidy for its work. Recently, AMR increased its ask to $1.8 million for a three-year contract.

When speaking at the meeting, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said he doesn’t want to put the city in a position to be taken advantage of.

“We got a private, for-profit organization who is saying ’you know what? Our profit margin is not as large as we’d like,’” Brown said. “That means [AMR is] making a profit. But it’s not as large as [they’d] like to see it.”

Brown said he’s spoken with city leaders and residents about AMR’s response times and that the community has found their work lacking. He said many people have told him when they call 911, they’re told an ambulance cannot come at the moment. 

He said one woman with shortness of breath and dizziness was told to wait and see if the feeling passed and to call back later.

“[AMR says] that it’s all about runtime. If you want a better runtime, then pay me more,” Brown said. “So when you tell them, ’Will I get better service if I paid you $1 million, $1.5 million, $2.5 million? If I paid that, what’s my guarantee?’ There are not guarantees.”

Audience and press members in attendance asked if the Youngstown Fire Department would be taking over emergency response should AMR pull out. Brown said the YFD has previously declined, indicating staffing an EMS truck means not staffing a fire truck.

“When we put it out there and ask for other services, nobody’s doing it, they’re closing down. You know, there’s some fire departments, some cities, they’re shattering because they don’t have the personnel even if they have the vehicles to do so,” Brown said.

Amanda Lencyk, head of trauma response for Mercy Health — which operates the only hospital in the city — said there’s a “golden hour” of response for any injury, and not having ambulance services would force Youngstowners to rely on mutual aid to make sure people are cared for in a timely manner.

“Trauma response time will significantly increase,” Lencyk said. “As far as trauma care and everything we’ve learned, especially over the last three years, it’s that EMS is a critical component for the time in response to improve trauma-patient care. What that looks like, I hope we don’t have to find out.”

Lencyk offered a few stop-gaps to the potential lapse in trauma response. She said one of the most effective ways to quicken response times is to utilize urgent care facilities around the city. St. Elizabeth Youngstown is the only level-one trauma center in Youngstown. A gunshot wound, heart attack or larger issue must be treated there. However, less serious medical issues, such as broken bones, can be handled at urgent care.

Josie Lyon, who sits on the board of the Youngstown Neighborhood Leaders, said their organization is working toward providing resources to residents in the event of a gap in trauma response. 

“We’re going to be looking to gather urgent care centers, physicians, Minute Clinic information for residents to see which is closest to them,” Lyon said. “Also maybe finding ways to connect them with how to do virtual visits. And then there’s some talk about [mutual aid] medical transport.” 

Lyon also said AMR officials were invited to all three community meetings but did not attend.

The Jambar reached out to AMR, but the company did not respond to questions asked.