Amid financial problems, N.J. city says shuttered EMS squad needs to be investigated
Plainfield found out that a squad employee embezzled funds, and the chief had been responding to calls without a current state EMT certification
By Jackie Roman
PLAINFIELD, N.J. — Plainfield is calling for an investigation by federal, state, and county authorities into the city’s temporarily shuttered rescue squad, according to a statement released by the city.
The city has accused the Plainfield Rescue Squad, which has provided emergency medical services to residents in Union County’s third-largest city for more than 70 years, of mismanagement, a lack of accountability and failure to file tax returns since 2019.
The squad paused operations in October due to financial strain, according to the city’s statement, which went on to say squad representatives told the city one of its employees had been embezzling funds. The city stated it also learned the squad’s chief officer was found by the New Jersey Department of Health to have been responding to calls without having a current state-issued Emergency Medical Technician certification from the state.
In the statement, also sent to the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, the state Attorney General’s Office, and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, city officials said the squad failed to submit to an independent audit.
The squad has not responded to the accusations, according to the city’s statement. Squad President Rolene Robinson told NJ Advance Media on Thursday she had no comment.
“The time has come to be candid about what really transpired,” the city said in its statement.
The Plainfield Rescue Squad is a volunteer nonprofit started in 1950 and is described as one of the busiest organizations in the state, according to its website. Funds to operate the squad come from contributions and program services, according to a revenue breakdown in the Rescue Squads tax filing for the fiscal year ending Dec. 2019.
The squad also hires staff to cover shifts when volunteers are not available, the organization has previously stated.
The squad announced in early October it was pausing emergency service operations “due to financial hardships stemming from extraordinary circumstances including the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a Tapinto article.
In the ensuing months, there’s been speculation in the community about why the squad paused services, some blaming the city, said city spokeswoman Jazz Clayton-Hunt.
“We (the city) bent over backwards. We did everything that we could,” said Clayton-Hunt. “We just felt like the public needed to know.”
Plainfield officials said they made an agreement with representatives of the rescue squad in March 2022 to purchase two new ambulances on the condition the nonprofit organization submit to an independent audit of its financial records. The squad had failed to file 990 tax returns with the IRS since 2019, according to the city.
Despite the agreement, representatives for the squad did not send the required documents to an independent financial auditor, according to the city’s statement. So, the city nixed the plan to buy the new ambulances, officials said.
Then, shortly after the squad announced it was pausing operations, city officials met with the organization’s leadership and were told “some unnamed employee of the PRS absconded with funds from the Rescue Squad, placing it in financial jeopardy and causing it to shutter its doors,” according to the city’s statement.
Rescue Squad representatives did not specify whether the “unnamed employee” was a volunteer or paid, according to the city. Representatives did not say when the theft occurred or exactly how much money was taken from the organization, either.
It is unclear if the Rescue Squad ever reported the theft to law enforcement. The city administration said it did not have information on whether the theft was reported to Plainfield Police Department. Police Director James Abney referred all questions regarding the Rescue Squad to the city.
The Union County Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
The city learned in December 2022 that Chief Officer Victoria Schaible had been ordered by the state Department of Health to immediately stop presenting herself as a certified EMT, as her certification in the New Jersey Emergency Medical Services system expired in December 2018, via a letter from the Department of Health Office of Emergency Medical Services.
Department of Health investigators reviewed electronic patient care reports from January 2019 to December 2022 and found Schaible signed 1,365 reports as the EMT rendering care to the patients, despite the certification having lapsed, according to the correspondence.
In an interview with NJ Advance Media, Schaible said although her New Jersey certification lapsed, she’s certified with the National Registry for Emergency Medical Technicians. Schaible’s national credentials are valid through March 2024, according to the National Registry website.
But national certification is not the same as a license to practice, according to the national registry website. New Jersey statute requires that EMTs obtain certification by the National Registry as a prerequisite — not a substitution — for issuing a New Jersey EMT license.
Plainfield has made other arrangements for ambulance services to be provided to residents while the squad is not in service, according to Business Administrator Abby Levenson.
“Currently, JFK EMS and the Union County EMS teams are working collaboratively to ensure that the City of Plainfield has 24/7 EMS coverage,” Levenson said.
All calls for EMS are first answered by JFK, Levenson said. If they’re unavailable, the call is sent to Union County EMS.
In the event the county is also busy, Levenson said there is outreach to mutual aid partners including South Plainfield Squad, River Road Squad, and Atlantic Health.
All current EMS services from JFK EMS, Union County EMS teams, and mutual aid partners are without cost, she said.
Concurrently, the city has put out a request for proposals for EMS services in Plainfield, Levenson said.
“The city plans to make a decision on a vendor and move forward with the process of bringing them on board for EMS services as expeditiously as possible,” Levenson said.
There’s no telling whether the Plainfield Rescue Squad will return from its hiatus to serve the community again.