By Dave Rogers Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Mayor Donna Holaday announced yesterday the city has reached an agreement with Cataldo Ambulance Service to provide 911 emergency response services starting Nov. 15 and through at least next June.
The Somerville-based ambulance provider, in business since 1977, will be taking over for struggling American Medical Response, which announced earlier this year it was pulling out of Newburyport and surrounding communities and laying off workers in an effort to reduce costs.
Holaday said Cataldo is essentially taking over AMR’s contract with the city, which expires June 30, 2013, and in the process hiring some of its Newburyport-based employees.
The city’s deal with Cataldo Ambulance Service comes after a long vetting process that involved multiple meetings with fire Chief Steven Cutter, city Marshal Thomas Howard and other emergency officials. The city also reached out to officials in other communities that have hired Cataldo to obtain references, according to Holaday.
“The references were superb, very very excellent; we’re really pleased,” Holaday said.
Holaday said the city would consider extending its contract with Cataldo past June 2013, provided what she called the probation period went well.
“They understand that you also want to be sure that they perform to the level we expect,” Holaday said.
For his part, Dennis Cataldo, vice president of Cataldo Ambulance Service, said his company would be more than happy to enter into a long-term deal with the city.
“This isn’t going to be an eight-month thing. Obviously, we hope to be there for many years,” Cataldo said.
Word of the agreement, which was actually signed earlier this month, comes days after it was announced that West Newbury officials had struck a similar deal with Cataldo Ambulance Service.
According to Cataldo, negotiations are underway with Salisbury officials to reach an agreement in that neighboring town. AMR’s contract with Salisbury was expected to expire in 2014 and with West Newbury in 2015.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us, and a great solution for the city of Newburyport. All meetings were overwhelmingly positive and I really cannot say enough about the level of commitment every community official has in making sure this transition is successful,” Cataldo said.
Together with Atlantic Ambulance Service, a division of Cataldo Ambulance Service, the organization provides emergency ambulance coverage for 12 municipalities in Greater Boston and on the North Shore.
Cataldo said Newburyport residents will likely see Atlantic ambulances at least at first, but that could change as time passes. He estimated as many as five ambulances and between 40 to 50 personnel will be stationed at what is currently AMR’s facility on Boston Way.
AMR has seen its financial situation drastically altered for the worse over the course of several months. The downspiral began in December when officials at Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport announced it was replacing AMR with Action Ambulance for all discharge trips. Action Ambulance has 16 different branches, including one on Graf Road in Newburyport.
In August, AMR New England general manager Brendan McNiff announced the company would be closing various locations in the Merrimack Valley after wage concession negotiations with the National Emergency Medical Services Association union failed. To save money, AMR is consolidating its dispatching services to one central location in Natick and cutting dozens of positions.
Union concessions were sought after Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the largest health care providers in the state, changed the way it reimbursed AMR and other ambulance service providers for trips. Because AMR was unable to reach an agreement with Blue Cross Blue Shield, Anna Jaques Hospital made the switch to Action Ambulance, which has an agreement with the insurance provider, in an effort to minimize health care costs, according to hospital officials.
Cataldo Ambulance Service also has an agreement with Blue Cross Blue Shield, but hospital Executive Vice President Mark Goldstein said there are no plans for Anna Jaques to alter its arrangement with Action Ambulance. Goldstein said the hospital has been more than satisfied with Action Ambulance’s service and will stick with the company at least until the end of its two-year contract, which expires Dec. 31, 2013.
“Action has been doing a terrific job reducing overall hospital costs. They are a great company. They’ve lived up to the strategies they presented to us and I haven’t thought about if we needed a change,” Goldstein said.
That being said, Goldstein said he expects Cataldo Ambulance will do a great job for the city. He added the hospital will be working very closely with Cataldo.
“We think it’s good for the city and for the community,” Goldstein said.