State Senate could decide fate of Utica's ambulance service

ALBANY, N.Y. (WKTV) - The battle over ambulance service in the City of Utica may soon be in the hands of the State Health Commissioner after the legal battles made their way to the New York State Senate and Assembly.

Kunkel Ambulance served Utica and surrounding areas for 73 years, until 2005, when the City of Utica started their own service. Kunkel Ambulance Vice President Catherine Kunkel says that took away nearly half of their business.

Since then, a legal battle has been waged over whether there was a need for the City of Utica to open up its own service.

Catherine Kunkel said,"the Certificate of Need process is in place to protect and assure that first and foremost service in a geographical area is adequate. Secondly, to avoid duplication of services and finally to control the costs in purveying that service."

The State and Regional EMS Councils both determined there wasn't a need for another ambulance service in Utica, and did not issue a Certificate of Need. The city started its own service anyway and has remained in business as the legal process runs it course.

The City lost the first round in court, but won the most recent one. Now Kunkel is appealing that decision.

Catherine Kunkel said, "We have reached the steps of the State's Highest Court, the Court of Appeals, but rather than letting the Court hear our case, like every other citizen, the City and the Unions are asking the State Legislature to change the law and give Utica a special pass. That should not be the role of the State Legislature."

Senator Joseph Griffo says the bill on the table right now does not give Utica, or Glens Falls, a special pass. They are the only two municipalities mentioned in the amended bill.

What the bill does say is because Utica and Glens Falls are in an urgent situation right now, this amendment will allow the two city's ambulance services to go directly before the State Commissioner of Health to determine if it is wise to have these services under their respective cities' control, rather that have the two city go before the current councils that determine the certificate of need, which he believes may be unbalanced in favor of the private ambulance companies.

The amended two-city bill has been passed in the Assembly and now the Senate is expected to vote on it before the end of the legislative session next Thursday.

Utica Firefighters Union President Rober Wenner told NEWSChannel 2, "We appreciate the efforts of Assemblyman Brindisi and Senator Griffo for coming forward during a time when not only the citizens of Utica, but the taxpayers of Utica, need this legislation passed.

Wenner says despite the talk by Kunkel and two members of the Utica Common Council, that the city's ambulance service doesn't make money and he says it definitely does and the books are open to prove it. He says the revenue equates to about five percent savings in city residents' tax rate.

Besides saying the city does not make money off of its service, during a press conference Saturday morning, Catherine Kunkel urged Griffo to not vote for this amended bill.

In a statement to NEWSChannel 2 on Saturday, Senator Joe Griffo says he and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi have both urged Kunkel and the City of Utica to sit down and work out some agreement, rather than try and put each other out of business.

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