Ledyard to look beyond volunteer ambulance for service

Ledyard — After decades of service, the town finally may turn to a new ambulance company amid growing concerns about missed calls and slow response times from the Ledyard Volunteer Emergency Squad, the town’s current ambulance service provider.

Wednesday night the Town Council directed Mayor Fred Allyn III to not renew the town’s contract with LVES at the end of the current fiscal year, June 30, and instead authorized him to put out a request for proposals for ambulance services.

Although not technically a town agency, LVES — which is staffed mostly by volunteers and a handful of employees — has been responsible for the town’s ambulance services since 1972, with the current contract being in place since the mid-'90s. LVES will continue to be responsible for providing ambulance services in town until June 30, however.

“What we’re seeking to do now is a pretty substantial departure,” said Allyn, referencing the intention to shift to an in-town paid ambulance crew stationed in the emergency services building around the clock. “We will have professional ambulance service every day of the year, every hour of the day.”

Allyn added that switching ambulance services may not necessarily prove more costly to the town because Ledyard already puts quite a bit of money into LVES and bears the costs for things such as health care, liability coverage, workers compensation and insurance for the ambulance vehicles.

American Ambulance and American Medical Response are two of the companies that officials anticipate will respond to the request for proposals, Allyn said. However, if it so chooses, LVES also could submit a proposal.

It is unclear at this point if the group would be interested in that option, as it is something LVES members plan to discuss at the group’s next meeting, LVES Director Rick Mumenthaler said.

“I hope that the residents in Ledyard and Gales Ferry understand we are trying to do the best that we can, and we do not want to see anybody suffer or get hurt,” said Mumenthaler, who became LVES director after the group's officers resigned earlier this month. “This isn’t something we could correct in a week or a month’s time.”

“It’s still in the works, we still have things we are trying to get in order,” he said, adding that the organization needs time to improve.

Alarmed by multiple weekends in which LVES was unable to respond in any capacity to emergency calls, town officials began taking a closer look not only at the organization’s missed-call rate but also its overall response times.

Allyn said that in a sampling of 85 calls that came in over the past several months, 40 percent of the time the ambulance service’s response time exceeded 18 minutes.

Also troubling, Allyn said, was that the data showed there were frequently occasions when LVES was unable to respond to a call at all, which is known as a missed call. In those cases, a dispatcher then requests assistance for a mutual aid ambulance from a neighboring community, typically because an ambulance company doesn’t have enough staff on hand to respond to the call. For Ledyard, mutual aid calls go out to Groton, Preston, Mystic and the Mashantuckets.

Consecutive weekends of missing calls — one in which the group missed all five calls that came in — were particularly alarming for Town Council members and left them feeling they had an obligation to act, ultimately voting 7-1 in favor of the mayor exploring other ambulance service options.

“I appreciate everything that the volunteers do and everything the volunteers have done, but a situation where we have calls not being responded to — and I mean all of them over a weekend — is not acceptable and we cannot sit here and do nothing and pretend this isn’t happening,” Councilor Bill Saums said at the meeting Wednesday.

Other issues within LVES further may have motivated some town officials to look elsewhere for ambulance services.

Allyn referenced how there had been five different leadership teams heading LVES within 13 years.

Residents attending the meeting Wednesday night would have witnessed clear divisions among volunteers, with several members during public comment describing former leadership as running the organization like a “dictatorship.” At the same time, though, one of the former officers offered a rebuke of those statements, and Town Council Chairwoman Linda Davis also mentioned that she had received multiple letters defending that same leadership.

Mumenthaler acknowledged that emotions may be running a bit high among LVES members and sometimes getting the better of people. He also added that it is something that he, as director, is responsible for having to abolish.

Additionally, at a Town Council Finance Committee meeting in February, discussion came up regarding a Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities complaint that had been filed against LVES.

c.clark@theday.com

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