Man takes taxi after ambulance fails to respond

Mobile Life Support Services (MLSS) ambulance routinely used as a taxi by people for non-emergencies. Mid-Hudson News file photo.

POUGHKEEPSIE – On Monday, March 13th, a City of Poughkeepsie resident who called 911 for an ambulance got tired of waiting for one and took a taxi to his desired destination, according to the Poughkeepsie firefighters that had responded to the caller’s North Bridge Street address.

The city’s ambulance provider, Mobile Life Support Services (MLSS), had no ambulances available at the time of the call, despite having a contract that calls for two MLSS ambulances to be available in the city at all times.

At 8:19 a.m. on Monday, a 60-year-old man called City of Poughkeepsie 911 and requested an ambulance for transportation to the hospital* for the purpose of detoxification.  The call was certainly not an emergency and did not require an ambulance.

The orders of the City of Poughkeepsie Fire Department require first responders to be dispatched to the scene in the event mutual aid is contacted for an EMS call for which a fire department response was not originally dispatched.  At 8:25 a.m. Poughkeepsie firefighters on Ladder 1 were dispatched to the call and assessed the patient.  Mobile Life did not have an ambulance available as one unit was on a call and the second unit, without calling it in, decided to stop at a car accident outside of the city, without being dispatched to it, to treat alleged patients. The firefighters were advised of the ambulance shortage and waited with the caller until one was made available.

With the two MLSS ambulances unavailable, dispatchers requested the neighboring Fairview Fire Department to respond with an ambulance.  The Fairview Fire Department ambulance, manned by career firefighters/EMTs was “unavailable” to respond.  Dispatchers then contacted the Roosevelt Fire Department and requested their ambulance to respond but were turned down because the ambulance was already on a call for service.  A call to the Pleasant Valley Fire Department had the same result as the others; the ambulance was unavailable.  The dispatchers then attempted to reach the East Clinton Fire Department to request their ambulance but received no response.  During the time the dispatchers were trying to locate an ambulance, they contacted the firefighters who informed them that the patient was calling a taxi for transportation.

The Roosevelt Fire Department EMS crew radioed in that they were clearing from their call and able to respond to Poughkeepsie at approximately 8:38 a.m., 13 minutes after the initial 911 call.  Moments before they arrived, a dispatcher notified them to cancel because “Patient called a taxi -they’ve arrived,” allowing Roosevelt to return to their Hyde Park station.

The ambulance shortage on Monday highlighted the critical ambulance shortage issue in the area that is also being experienced throughout the state.  In Dutchess County, many first responders blame part of the widespread EMS delays on two factors: Vassar Brothers Medical Center (VBMC) and a multitude of people calling 911 for an ambulance in non-emergency situations.

The complaint regarding VBMC is similar to the complaint many patients have about the emergency department (ED) at Vassar; the wait time.  EMS workers are bringing patients into the ED and are required to stay with the patient until a staff member makes contact, which can take a substantial amount of time, leaving the ambulance crew unable to respond to other calls.  A multitude of VBMC patients and their family members have contacted Mid-Hudson News reporting having waited in the VBMC ED for more than 18 hours before being admitted, while others have reported leaving VBMC and going to another local hospital after several hours of not being treated at VBMC.

The other major problem is people who are using ambulances as a taxi to get to the hospital for non-emergency treatment.  “When an ambulance responds to a 911 call for a person having difficulty breathing and the EMTs or paramedics respond, they routinely discover that it’s a homeless person that is taking the ambulance to seek shelter from the elements at the hospital as opposed to actually needing medical attention,” said Poughkeepsie Fire Chief Joe Franco.  “It places a burden on the entire EMS service when responders are tied up on non-emergency calls that take an extended period of time to clear from.”

Many fire districts and municipalities contract with Mobile Life to provide EMS ambulance service.  In addition to the City of Poughkeepsie, the Arlington Fire District in the Town of Poughkeepsie has a contract with MLSS in which there are supposed to be three ambulances available in the town during the day, one of which is shared with the City of Poughkeepsie.  At night, according to Arlington Fire Chief Bill Steenbergh, there are supposed to be two MLSS ambulances in the town.

MLSS also contracts with the New Hamburg Fire Department in an agreement with the Village of Wappingers Falls to share one MLSS ambulance.  The Town of Fishkill has a contract that is supposed to make two MLSS ambulances available.  The Town of East Fishkill has a contract with MLSS that provides a dedicated MLSS ambulance for exclusive use in the town.

Based on the available contract information, Mobile Life Support Services should have had six ambulances operating in Dutchess County on Monday.  At the time of the Poughkeepsie incident, there were three units in the county.  MLSS did not respond to a Tuesday afternoon call seeking comment.

The five-year contract between the City of Poughkeepsie and Mobile Life was signed in 2018 and expires on March 22, 2023.

*The original article indicated that the patient was requesting transport to the Dutchess County Stabilization Center, which is incorrect.  EMS providers do not transport patients to the center; only local hospitals.  We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused.