Residents and fire company volunteers are sounding the alarm about ambulance services on the Great Neck peninsula, which they say are under threat as several villages consider new providers.
The northern villages of Great Neck, Kings Point and Saddle Rock have not signed ambulance contracts with volunteer company Great Neck Vigilant Engine and Hook & Ladder Co. since 2015, instead electing to operate on a month-to-month basis for two years.
After more than 80 years of contracting with Vigilant, the mayors of the three villages said they are doing their due diligence and researching all potential providers, including Northwell Health. This follows a January closed-door meeting between Northwell and the eight mayors of the Great Neck Village Officials Association.
More than 150 people packed Great Neck Village Hall at a recent meeting, with many residents criticizing the village for allegedly seeking to cut costs and holding secret meetings. The village’s annual fire and ambulance budget is $260,421.
“Why is our village government playing with fire when it comes to resident safety?” asked longtime village resident Judy Rosenthal. “Village firefighters will always care more, do more and deliver more because they reside here.”
The northern village mayors called residents’ response premature and their accusations misguided, since a formal proposal from Northwell is not yet on the table.
Saddle Rock Village Mayor Dan Levy declined to discuss what information Northwell has provided, calling it “meaningless” until on paper. Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral said that there were no prices proposed and that there was nothing “tangible” to bring to the public.
In Northwell’s January presentation, the hospital said that if all the peninsula’s villages signed up for its ambulance services, there would be no cost to the villages since the hospital would bill residents’ health insurances directly, Northwell spokesman Terry Lynam confirmed last week.
The deal would not stand if all the villages don’t sign on, instead requiring more analysis about pricing, Lynam said.
Vigilant contracts with the villages of Great Neck, Saddle Rock, Kings Point and unincorporated areas of the town for ambulance services. It provides fire and ambulance services to the villages of Thomaston, Great Neck Plaza, Great Neck Estates and Kensington. The village of Lake Success is serviced by Northwell.
Over the past decade, there have been intermittent conversations among officials in villages on the peninsula about eliminating village budgets for EMS services and instead billing to health insurance. In 2010, the town commissioned a report, funded by a $180,000 state grant, to study ambulance services in the town. The report concluded that the “current system works.”
Mayors revisited the issue last year, and Vigilant proposed moving forward with billing to health insurance, a potential yearlong and costly process that Vigilant officials said would involve splitting the company and creating a new, separate volunteer ambulance company.
Discussions broke down partially because of the company’s request for a Length of Service Award program, which would confer a monthly stipend to volunteers based on age and years of service, multiple village mayors confirmed.
Vigilant officials said a new provider cannot ensure faster response times, more efficient service or necessarily cut costs. For the 2017 fiscal year, the ambulance budget for the peninsula was $862,893, less than a 4 percent rise since 2015.
The total budget is divided, based on assessed value and population size, said David Weiss, chairman of Vigilant’s board of trustees. The villages of Great Neck and Kings Point bear the largest financial share, paying more than $215,000 annually. In Great Neck, the average resident with a home assessed at $813,000 would pay $93 in taxes for ambulance services with Vigilant, said village clerk Joe Gill.
Saddle Rock carries a smaller share of about $28,000, according to the 2015 contract. The Saddle Rock Village Board has not signed more recent contracts because “we are not pleased,” said Mayor Levy, who is chairman of the Great Neck Village Officials Association.
Vigilant, which has 39 EMTs and 18 paramedics, averages a five-minute response time, fire company officials said. The company responds to more than 2,000 calls per year, amounting to about six calls daily.
Northwell supplies ambulances to several Nassau municipalities, including the villages of Hempstead, Lake Success and Rockville Centre.
Bral said it shouldn’t be “too long” until the village of Great Neck concludes its due diligence.
Joshua Forst, Vigilant’s chief, said that choosing Northwell would amount to “taking away the fabric of the community.”
“We have not wavered once in our commitment to the residents,” said Forst, 42, a town resident.