Priority Ambulance completes acquisition of N.Y. volunteer service

Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Corps had served the Mohawk Valley and Southern Adirondack for over 55 years

By Ashley Onyon
The Daily Gazette

AMSTERDAM, N.Y. — Priority Ambulance has completed its acquisition of Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Corps (GAVAC) several years after such plans were first announced. GAVAC will continue to provide ambulance services in the region under a new name, Lake Valley EMS.

"Lake Valley EMS — formerly GAVAC — will operate business as usual, providing trusted and exceptional EMS care to the communities we serve," said Thomas Pasquarelli, now director of operations at Lake Valley and formerly executive director at GAVAC, on Wednesday.

GAVAC, a non-profit, served the Mohawk Valley and Southern Adirondack for over 55 years. The Amsterdam-based ambulance agency answered emergency medical calls and provided interfacility transport services in Montgomery, Fulton and parts of Hamilton counties.

Those services will continue following the acquisition of the local agency, along with its assets and Certificate of Need providing ambulance operating authority, by Priority Ambulance for an undisclosed sum.

Priority Ambulance is a for-profit provider of Emergency Medical Services nationally. The agency already serves New York with Kunkel Ambulance in Oneida and Herkimer counties and Trans Am Ambulance in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties. Priority Ambulance is supported by Enhanced Healthcare Partners, a private equity firm investing in the healthcare industry.

"We are excited to welcome Lake Valley EMS and their team to the Priority Ambulance family," said Steve Blackburn, chief operating officer at Priority Ambulance, in a prepared statement. "At Priority, we believe in supporting local EMS teams who have built decades of trust and rapport with the community. We look forward to supporting the Lake Valley team as they continue to grow their legacy of delivering exceptional medical care in the region."

The announcement Wednesday of the finalized acquisition was made two years after the plans were first announced in May 2021. The agencies had to secure regulatory approval from the state Attorney General's Office and the state Department of Health before the transaction could be completed.

"The complexities of New York laws related to the acquisition of non-profit companies caused a prolonged delay in finalizing the transaction," Pasquarelli said. "Priority Ambulance has grown in its history through acquisitions and contract wins. GAVAC was a natural fit for the company's existing operations in Upstate New York."

Regional officials are optimistic that residents won't notice any change in services beyond the rebranding of the ambulance agency.

"We're hopeful and have been reassured that services are going to continue very much the same as they are now," Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said.

Emergency management officials in Fulton and Montgomery counties have been aware of the impending change since plans were originally made public. Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery Smith said officials met with agency leaders at the time to learn more about potential impacts and will meet again now that the transition has arrived.

"They told us we should not see any change in service whatsoever. If anything there would be an increase in service, which would be welcome and great," Smith said. "We hope that they'll have even a larger presence in the county, because sometimes the call volume is more than the available resources, so any increase in staffing or presence would be a benefit."

Fulton County Emergency Management Director Steven Santa Maria is hopeful Priority Ambulance and Lake Valley will follow through on plans shared with officials to invest in higher wages and focus heavily on recruitment to boost staffing levels. Providers locally and nationally have faced staffing shortages in the historically low-paying field related to reimbursement rates for insurance falling short of the actual cost of services.

"It's one of those things where time will tell," Santa Maria said. "We're hopeful the service will only improve, we're hoping that some of the plans and concepts that Priority have shared with this office come to fruition because it can only make things better."

Lake Valley has already increased pay for existing employees, according to Pasquarelli, who declined to provide specific wage figures. Staff are expected to be added in the future as the agency grows.

"There are no staff reductions as a result of this transaction," Pasquarelli noted. "We are pleased to provide pay increases and have an excellent team who is dedicated to serving our communities."

Through its new parent company, the agency will reportedly benefit from added administrative support and have access to a national network of resources, including expanded purchasing power to secure better pricing for medical supplies.

There could be "operational adjustments" over time, but agency leaders are unprepared to discuss any long-term plans at this stage.

There is no concern the larger outfit acquiring GAVAC will result in increased competition with other local providers, according to Shannon Countryman, chief administrative officer at St. Johnsville Area Volunteer Ambulance Corp (SAVAC).

"We look forward to working with them," Countryman said. "We've had good working relationships with GAVAC and we hope to see that continue with Lake Valley and if this is something that is going to improve EMS services in Montgomery County, it will certainly be something that's good to see."

Officials in Montgomery and Fulton counties in recent years have focused on ensuring the stability of local ambulance services following the shutdown of multiple providers throughout the region, including the Ambulance Service of Fulton County in Gloversville and Johnstown Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Closures have led to greater reliance on a handful of area agencies that are grappling with increasing call volumes amidst far-reaching staffing shortages and financial tumult from the low insurance reimbursement rates.

Both GAVAC and SAVAC have been the primary providers in Fulton and Montgomery counties. The Amsterdam Fire Department responds to emergency medical calls within its home city. The Johnstown Fire Department does the same in its city with some mutual aid capabilities.

"The challenges remain and I think they're larger than this specific transition. We have to just keep looking at the whole picture and try to be supportive," Ossenfort said. "Should there be any issues, we obviously remain engaged and want to be part of solutions to any challenges."

"From everything I've heard, this is going to be a smooth, positive transition and we're going to work with them to ensure good service in Montgomery County," he added.

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