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January 16, 2012
State auditors probe launch of NY ambulance company
By Lou Michel
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Concerned about delays and increased demands for emergency medical services, the officials of the Orchard Park Fire District formed a private, non-profit ambulance company back in 2009.
Now, the State Comptroller's Office is in the process of completing an audit to determine if transactions, including a loan of public funds, were done legally to get the company up and running and keep it operational.
Residents in the town and village of Orchard Park pay an annual tax to the townwide fire district.
The fire district's five commissioners, acting as private individuals, established Orchard Park Fire District EMS Inc., the fire district's lawyer said.
"There was one loan for a limited period of time that was paid back 100 percent plus interest for the not-for-profit EMS company," said attorney Michael F. Chelus.
Though he declined to say how much money was loaned, Chelus said all of the actions taken to start the company were legal.
The ambulance company, whose cash flow is generated from billings to insurance companies from the patients it transports, operates out of an unused portion of the Orchard Park Fire District's building on Taylor Road.
"Town law allows for leasing a portion of an unsued section of a building," Chelus said.
A spokesperson for the comptroller's office confirmed an audit is under way, but declined to address what prompted the review.
Health officials have questioned the transactions that made it possible for the start of the company, said Peter Constantakes, a state Health Department spokesman.
In explaining why the district assisted in setting up EMS, Chelus said it was because of a lack of coverage for ambulance service in Orchard Park.
"Another private ambulance company had been providing back up service with its two ambulances in Hamburg, and that was not adequate," Chelus said. "Our volunteer firefighters have been getting more and more calls. We experienced a 30 percent increase between 2003 and 2009 in rescue calls and needed more back up that wasn't there."
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