NOTE: Hawley Council has announced a special meeting for Wednesday, January 10 at 7 p.m., at Borough Hall to discuss flood levee insurance and other matters that may arise.

HAWLEY - A unanimous decision was made by Hawley Borough Council, Tuesday, January 2nd, to keep Commonwealth Health Emergency Medical Services as the first choice for ambulance dispatches in 2018, after Hawley Ambulance failed to present requested service information.

(Council normally meets on the second Wednesday, but decided to meet sooner in January due to the required annual re-organization meeting.)

Brian Utegg, chief of the volunteer Hawley Ambulance & Rescue Company, said that they had only part of the requested information ready, and would rather wait to present the whole package. He asked that Council consider making Hawley Ambulance, as well as the paid Commonwealth Health service, dual responders, meaning both companies would be called out at the same time when there is an emergency.

The choice to make Commonwealth the first responder includes “the next available agency” - which would likely mean Hawley Ambulance - if Commonwealth was not available to make the call.

Municipalities choose which agencies will be the primary EMS provider, and report that request to the County Emergency Management Agency which handles 9-1-1 dispatches.

The decision did not settle well with Utegg, who declared that this was an issue going back “10 years” and not just the last couple months, and despite their ambulance company’s hard work, they are kicked around. Utegg then promptly left the Borough Hall.

At the October 2017 meeting, Council agreed to temporarily designate Commonwealth Health as the primary EMS responder, citing a lack of response from Hawley Ambulance. The designation was for 90 days, which would be up at the end of January 2018. Council had decided that by that time, they would decide what to do to ensure adequate coverage for the residents, business people and visitors in the borough.

At Council’s direction, both companies were sent letters by Solicitor Robert Bernathy, asking for proposals to show to what extent the company was prepared to respond to medical emergencies and serve the public. According to Council President Ann Monaghan, this came after Council receiving “numerous complaints” regarding response times and Hawley Ambulance billing beyond what insurance has paid.

Replies to the letters were due by seven days prior to the December 13 Council meeting, but there was no response from either. Council then directed that Bernathy re-send the letters by certified mail, requiring a reply in time for the January 2nd meeting.

Commonwealth Health, which is based in Scranton but has ambulances stationed in Wayne County, answered the questions in the letter and responded in time. Timothy Rowland, who is their Director of Communications, told Council that they never received the first letter.

Utteg introduced their new EMS captain at the January meeting. He also stated that on New Year’s Eve  they were able to assemble a crew and responded to medical emergencies five times.

Utteg said that they had most of the information gathered that Council wanted, but not all. Councilman Mike Dougherty said that they’d rather have at least part of the response rather than nothing to go by.

Monaghan stressed that Council’s main interest is the residents and others who are served by the ambulance service. She said that if they had even a partial service agreement, but Hawley Ambulance has been saying “sorry we’re late but we will get it as soon as possible, for over a year.”

After the vote was taken and Utegg exited, Monaghan said that by choosing Commonwealth Health at this time does NOT exclude Hawley Ambulance from serving in the future. “We need Hawley to get their act together and give us information,” Monaghan stated. “We need hard proof at this time.” She said that are no precluding Hawley Ambulance, and can revisit this next year.

Elaine Herzog, Council Vice-president, said, “It’s not that we don’t appreciate what Hawley’s done,” referring to the local nonprofit ambulance company that has served the borough since 1972. “It’s service first,” Herzog said.

Rowland stated that Commonwealth Health has been arranging to be able to have an ambulance stationed in the borough, and they have looked at several locations “for a permanent site.” He stated that this was not a binding contract, and if there was ever a service issue with Commonwealth, Council “can change it with a vote.”