If you call 911 in New Haven, you never know who’s going to show up with an ambulance.
American Medical Response has accused a Bridgeport ambulance company of “jumping” emergency calls in New Haven, North Haven and Milford –stealing calls by beating the intended ambulances to the scene.
The state has designated AMR as the exclusive responder for emergency calls in the region, and the New Haven company filed a lawsuit against Bridgeport’s Nelson Ambulance Service in May for treading on its turf.
AMR sought an injunction that would force Nelson to stop, arguing the practice violated the law and endangered patients. But on June 4 Superior Court judge Jonathan Blue dismissed the suit, saying only the Department of Public Health can regulate the ambulance companies. The department is reviewing the case, but in the meantime AMR has appealed the judge’s decision to state Appellate Court.
Nelson Ambulance “jumped” calls by listening to emergency radio dispatches, said Linda T. Wihbey, a Waterbury lawyer representing AMR. C-MED, a New Haven-based emergency communications center, directs calls to the Fire Department and to AMR. Nelson Ambulance intercepted these dispatches and beat AMR crews to the scene, Wihbey said.
Wihbey said AMR was concerned patients would receive inadequate care from a Nelson crew.
“If Nelson people have already arrived and tell us to leave the scene, are we responsible if that patient receives poor medical care because it is our area?” she asked.
Nelson representatives did not return phone calls for comment this week.
Nelson Ambulance is not part of the New Haven Sponsor Hospital Program, under which the Hospital of St. Raphael, Yale-New Haven Hospital, and Milford Hospital provide AMR crews with medical control and physician surveillance. Because Nelson crews are not under hospital direction, its technicians are not certified to administer medication.
According to AMR’s lawsuit, Nelson has violated the state Department of Public Health’s policy for emergency response and transport on multiple occasions.
On May 2, AMR and North Haven firefighters were dispatched to the Montowese Health Center in response to a report of possible cardiac arrest. The lawsuit alleges that a Nelson crew told AMR that their services were unneeded. AMR submitted as evidence a handful of paramedic reports, in which Nelson crews arrived before the AMR crews.
According to the lawsuit, the Nelson crew was not properly equipped to handle the cardiac arrest emergency, without sufficient oxygen supply and other equipment. A Nelson paramedic unsuccessfully tried to use an unprotected intravenous needle, the lawsuit also says.
Nelson Ambulance Company responded to AMR’s injunction by saying Superior Court does not have jurisdiction to rule in the case.
Wihbey said she appealed Blue’s decision to dismiss the case because in the Department of Public Health proceedings, AMR has no standing.
“The Department of Public Health would open a disciplinary proceeding against the Nelson provider, but I don’t get to cross-examine, I don’t get to present evidence,” Wihbey said.
Wihbey said AMR first reported Nelson Ambulance to the state in February 2000 and only sued in May 2001, when the department said there might have been a violation, but took no action. Representatives from the department did not return phone calls this week.
“Judge Blue told me, ‘Attorney Wihbey, it’s not that the wheels of justice aren’t turning, you’re just not happy with the speed,'” she said.
Nelson Ambulance has a history of violations. In January 1999, Herbert Zampano Sr. of Branford waited 34 minutes for an ambulance as he gasped for breath. For Zampano, the closest medical technicians would have been in the Branford fire department. Instead, Nelson Ambulance dispatched a vehicle from the Bridgeport area, 30 minutes away.