One of the city’s largest private ambulance companies ceased operations Wednesday night after filing for bankruptcy. It comes at the same time the city is struggling to reduce ambulance response times.
TransCare operated 27 ambulances in the Bronx and Manhattan for seven hospitals and employed 200 EMT's and paramedics. It also responded to 911 calls. The shutdown means a loss of 81 ambulance tours, or ten percent of shifts citywide, with a greater impact in the affected boroughs.
“The Fire Department has been aware for several months of the financial difficulties faced by TransCare,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement. He added the department, “has developed contingency plans — both short and long term — in anticipation of" the announcement.
Those plans include additional FDNY units staffed on overtime to fill the vacancies left by TransCare, along with a survey of private hospital and third-party providers to determine if they can also pick up shifts.
“The city has full faith in FDNY’s ability to provide uninterrupted EMS services throughout our five boroughs and will work closely with the department as they continue to implement their long-term strategy for enhancing EMS service delivery," said mayoral spokeswoman Monica Klein.
Over the last year, the city has beefed up its investment in EMS, adding 45 new ambulance tours last year and nearly 20 more proposed for this year.
But the sudden loss of Transcare means the city now has fewer tours than it did before those new investments.
On Tuesday, FDNY Chief James Leonard testified at a City Council hearing that the department knows response times are too high.
“I know the number needs to go down,” said Leonard.
Fire and Criminal Justice Chair Elizabeth Crowley, who led the Council hearing, said she was “surprised” when she learned about the TransCare shutdown.
The city uses a mix of ambulances from FDNY EMS, private hospitals, volunteer units and other private companies.
“I think it would be a more reliable service if it was 100% run by the FDNY,” Crowley said.
When Vincent Variale, head of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union, found out TransCare was shuttering, he reached out to his members in FDNY EMS to find out who could help the department cover the vacant shifts by working overtime.
He also said the department should stop using private ambulances.
“Peoples' lives are on the line,” said Variale. “We have to have something more dependable out there to service the people.”