Verona Council voted to assess a change in ambulance services Tuesday evening, signaling a new phase in an ongoing debate over the effectiveness of its current provider.
While the switch hasn’t been approved, council will invite a representative from Lower Valley Ambulance to speak about its services at a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29. Over the past few months, over the effectiveness of the current provider, Guardian Angel, with residents and council members saying its ambulances frequently arrive late.
The vote was 5-1, with council member Peggy Suchevich dissenting. Tony Futules abstained.
Councilmember Sandra Drabicki-Bell ignited the discussion when she told of a recent incident involving her neighbor.
According to Drabicki-Bell, she heard a woman screaming for help around 9 a.m. on April 19. Not dressed to leave the house, she sent her husband to see what was wrong. He found the neighbor sprawled on a concrete slab after falling from her porch. Both of her wrists were broken, and a nail was lodged in her nostril.
Drabicki-Bell said she called 911 while her husband was outside. Her husband returned and said, “We need an ambulance. We need an ambulance now. There’s a lot of blood.” She called 911 again and was assured that an ambulance was on its way.
After 15 minutes, according to police chief Ron McLemore, the officer who responded to the incident called and was told the ambulance would be another 10 or 15 minutes. Not wanting to wait any longer, the officer called Lower Valley Ambulance, which came in less than 10 minutes.
“Guardian Angel never showed up,” McLemore said.
“Something needs to be done,” Drabicki-Bell said. “What’s it going to take for us to do something for the people of this community?”
Suchevich, who claimed more than 30 years of EMS experience, said the incident doesn’t imply negligence on Guardian Angel’s part. The company could have been responding to calls with more severe emergency statuses, she said, and dispatchers would have notified the company when the officer called Lower Valley.
Suchevich has argued on Guardian Angel's side in the past. She said any company would encounter situations where response times are less than ideal, standing her ground against shouts from fellow officials.
“We have a very serious problem in here,” said Mayor David Ricupero, who has said he advises officers to request other ambulance companies when calling 911. “The mayor before me has told this board we have a problem. And no one seems to listen.”
“I honestly don’t think you do have a problem,” Suchevich said, drawing scoffs from the audience. “You know what, I’ve been in the ambulance (business) for over 30 years. How many ambulance calls have you folks been on?”
Futules, who abstained from voting, said he’d prefer to bring on a company in addition to Guardian Angel, rather than simply switch services.
“We have a better chance of getting someone there,” Futules said. “Don’t we?”
Council President Dom Conte said Tuesday’s vote doesn’t bind council in any way. But he was eager to look at another company.
“In my opinion, they should show up in a timely fashion every time they are called,” Conte said.
Have you experienced any problems with the ambulance service in Verona? Tell us what you think about council's actions in the comments!