By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — SALISBURY — As of midnight last night, Cataldo Ambulance Service will be responding to medical emergency calls in Salisbury.
After a recommendation from Town Manager Neil Harrington, the Board of Selectmen gave unanimous approval last night. Cataldo will serve out the remainder of the town’s contract with its former ambulance provider, AMR, which decided earlier this year to pull out of Salisbury, as well as out of Newburyport and West Newbury. Cataldo has already taken over for AMR in Newburyport and West Newbury.
In business for 35 years and headquartered in Somerville, Cataldo will serve Salisbury and the region from AMR’s former site on Boston Way in Newburyport, Vice President Dennis Cataldo told selectmen. The company has 90 ambulances and responded to 100,000 911 calls last year. It provides coverage for other oceanside communities like Revere and Marblehead and back-up ambulance service to Amesbury, Georgetown and Newbury.
Cataldo also assured selectmen that like AMR, his company will commit to stationing an ambulance in Salisbury during weather emergencies — like Hurricane Sandy — and during high-volume summer events and weekends. Selectmen wanted the company to offer such service to ensure prompt response in spite of heavy local traffic and delays the opening of the Gillis Bridge can cause.
“We fully intend in honoring everything AMR honored in the past,” Cataldo said.
According to Cataldo, his company has already hired a number of former AMR staffers who are familiar with service in Salisbury, and it intends to use their experience to understand the best way to serve Salisbury.
According to Harrington, after AMR informed the town the company was leaving the area, he undertook research into three ambulance companies interested in filling the void. Along with Cataldo, Harrington looked into Trinity and Action ambulance services. All three were good companies, he said, but Cataldo was fire Chief Rick Souliotis’ preference.
“The Fire Department probably works closer that any other department in town with the ambulance service, and Chief Souliotis strongly supported Cataldo,” Harrington said.
Cataldo will take over AMR’s contract in town until it ends on June 30, Harrington said. The town will evaluate its performance when determining if it will continue with the company or seek other candidates.
Harrington said when making his decision, he was looking for a company that would provide good quality of care to the town’s residents and visitors.
Another factor in his decision was to find a company that would show its support to the community by helping out local charities and joining the Chamber of Commerce, to which Cataldo agreed.
But one of the most important factors was for the ambulance company to have a relationship with Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance, something AMR did not have and which became problematic. Cataldo entered into a contract with BC/BS in October, Cataldo said.
Harrington said his understanding is that AMR’s not being a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts provider made life financially difficult for the company. It left the ambulance service having to chase down patients for payment, which was not cost-effective, Harrington said.
“I wanted to ensure that the next ambulance company had a relationship with Blue Cross so as not to run into the same problem again,” Harrington said.
When AMR pulled out, there had been some discussion of the town’s fire department taking over, but Harrington said that would have necessitated a huge financial commitment. Salisbury only has five full-time firefighters, he said, and isn’t a full-time fire department, relying on part-time and call staff when needed.
But an ambulance service has to be provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“You need at least two people staffing the ambulance 24/7,” he said. “We’d have to hire a lot more staff. It would have been cost-prohibitive.”