Ambulance president sues town

Supervisor calls suit 'smoke and mirrors': Corps says 'secret sweetheart deal' with Mobile Life is 'illegal, unconstitutional and unenforceable'

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  • The Chester Volunteer Ambulance Corps building at its dedication in 2005. (Chronicle file photo)

Boardman admits that Chester Ambulance's performance was "not perfect," and that he had taken over as president on Jan. 1 tasked to set things right. But the town never gave him the chance.

— Robert Boardman, president of the Chester Volunteer Ambulance Corps, is suing the town and a private ambulance company for what they say is an illegal termination of service.

The town board in January contracted with Mobile Life Support Services to provide ambulance service to residents. The board terminated the town's 60-year relationship with Chester Ambulance, which was to continue to operate only as a second service backup.

Alex Jamieson, the Chester supervisor, called the suit a "smoke and mirrors" distraction from the problems Chester Ambulance has caused the town. He said the town had gotten complaints for years, especially from senior citizens, about Chester Ambulance not responding to their calls.

Boardman admits that Chester Ambulance's performance was "not perfect," and that he had taken over as president on Jan. 1 tasked to set things right. But the town never gave him the chance — he found out about the termination 15 days into his contract. He was given two weeks to hand over the keys to the ambulance building that had been the corps' home since it was built.

In addition to complaints about calls, Jamieson said there is "an issue with money being missing." A judge had asked for a forensic audit, which was never done, he said. Chester Ambulance is due back in court on July 19.

According to Jamieson, the judge is requiring that Chester Ambulance get a new management team. The corps didn't file with the IRS for five years, which led to the loss of its tax-exempt status, he said. The judge will also want proof that the IRS now has the tax filings missing for the past five years, a completed forensic audit, and a documented increase in the call rate. Jamieson said the person who failed to do the filings still serves on the executive board.

Boardman: Switch is 'anti-citizen'

Boardman told The Chronicle he would drop the suit in a second if the town signed them back up.

"I'm fighting for my life," said Boardman, who characterized himself as a Chester native, a former Eagle Scout, and the father of children who attend Chester schools. He said he's just barely hanging on to his certification, which demands that he make at least one call a month. If he loses certification, he said, volunteer ambulance service will disappear from Chester, with Mobile Life "able to charge the town a million dollars if they want to."

Chester Ambulance is now operating out of an office at 137 Main Street in the Village of Chester. He said Mayor Phil Valastro and Police Chief Peter Graziano have been very generous in allowing him to park the ambulances on village property.

'A secret deal'

Boardman's lawsuit, filed by attorney Bradley Pinsky, calls the agreement between Chester and Mobile Life "illegal, unconstitutional and unenforceable," and asks the court to void the agreement and order Mobile Life to return all profits derived from the agreement.

“The former town supervisor secretly negotiated this deal last October, but waited to make us aware of it until we were evicted from our building in January,” said Boardman, referring to Steve Neuhaus, who is now county executive. “Our volunteer corps was founded in 1949, and we had been serving Chester citizens with all volunteers as a non-profit for more than six decades. All of a sudden, there is this illegal arrangement and citizens now have to pay more for emergency medical transportation.”

The lawsuit notes that, under the agreement, Mobile Life has established user fees that allow the company to make a profit. However, Boardman says, the state comptroller has said there is no authority for a municipal ambulance service to earn a profit for providing essential services. Beyond that, the agreement does not require Mobile Life to set flat fees for its services as called for in providing municipal services.

Mobile Life is getting revenue from insurance reimbursements just as the volunteer ambulance service did, Boardman said. The volunteers are not paid for their service but funding is used for operating costs like the building’s upkeep and fuel for vehicles, medical supplies and training.

“We charged the bare minimum,” Boardman said. “If someone were to write us a letter saying we can’t afford the co-pay we would reduce the bill or sometimes even write it off, but we would never refuse service. By contrast, if a Mobile Life ambulance leaves the building you will be charged."

He called the switch "anti-citizen." He argued that the volunteer corps is composed of town residents who provide first aid and CPR services to local police, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts at no cost. The volunteer company also stocked both the town and village police with oxygen and first responder equipment, and did safety programs at the school. In short, CVAC does everything it can to help and serve the community with no thought of profit or gain, he said.

Boardman expects the town leaders to try to save face by denigrating the service the volunteers had been providing, but he said that tactic won’t work and doesn’t address the illegal takeover.

“If the town leaders have issues with the service we provide they should meet with us and work together on solutions. Putting us out of business and out of our building is not helping anyone except Mobile Life. We want to offer this service to the citizens of Chester in the most professional, cost-effective way.”

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