After death of Manor man who waited 14 minutes for transport, Pelham Town Board holds emergency meeting on ambulance service

The Pelham Town Board held an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss the death of a Village of Pelham Manor resident on May 18, the 14 minutes it took to get an ambulance to the man’s house and to provide an update on the council’s efforts to provide a new ambulance service to Pelham.

According to Westchester County 911 data, read by Town Supervisor Dan McLaughlin, on May 18, the son of a Pelham Manor resident residing at Clay Avenue ran to the Pelham Manor Police Department requesting help because his father had suffered a heart attack. A call was made at 10:32 p.m. by Pelham Manor police requesting EMS at the scene. The town’s EMS fly car responded in three minutes, and the patient was given treatment.

An ambulance was requested at 10:37 p.m. by the police, said McLaughlin. The request went unfilled by Empress Emergency Medical Services in Mount Vernon as well as the company that provides service to New Rochelle. At 10:42 p.m., the Larchmont Volunteer Ambulance Corps. accepted the call, arrived at the scene at 10:51 p.m. and began to transport the patient to Montefiore Hospital in New Rochelle at 11:09 p.m, getting there in 19 minutes. The patient died en route to the hospital.

“It was an unfortunate incident,” said McLaughlin.

(Pelham does not have a volunteer or professional ambulance service. It has a contract for Empress to transport patients to a local hospital “as quickly as possible,” according to the town website. But because of incidents where Empress could not respond or was delayed in responding during the past 18 months, the town board sought bids for a new contracted ambulance service. Paramedics staffing the town-funded EMS car, which is also operated by Empress, provide emergency treatment until an ambulance can arrive, as do members of the police and fire departments in both villages who have the proper training. The numbers of officers and Pelham Manor firefighters who are certified is unknown at this time. Members of the Village of Pelham fire department all have EMT-B certification.)

Deputy Supervisor Rae Szymanski said the request for proposals for dedicated ambulance service was sent out five months ago, and the board was given options to consider. However, she said, the town budget cannot be altered in the middle of the year, and money for the service needs to be included in the 2024 budget when it’s written in October. Szymanski said proposals were sought by the board because it recognized how poorly Empress has been responding to emergencies with ambulances and that the board is disappointed with its service.

Pelham modified football players take a knee as Carla Caccavale’s son lay on the field while an ambulance took 26 minutes to respond.

According to McLaughlin, the cost for contracted coverage would be around $1.5 million to $1.7 million a year, in addition to the $275,000 budgeted for the EMS fly car.

If Pelham were to start its own service, housing the rig and crew would be a problem, according to Szymanski. The ambulance needs to be garaged in an enclosed, temperature-controlled bay to preserve medication.

McLaughlin said neither of the villages’ fire houses has space for this and mentioned the use of a portion of land near the Town of Pelham Public Library.

In the interim, the board is looking to create a temporary system that may or may not include Empress. The Town of Eastchester will report back to the board with a hybrid plan for ambulance coverage for the remainder of the year, said Szymanski, with one idea being keeping a rig closer to Pelham in order to respond to emergencies faster.

“It’s sad we don’t have a lot of choices,” she said.

The deputy supervisor reported that “most months,” the EMS fly car’s response time is “less that 5 minutes 50% of the time.”

McLaughlin said when four PMHS students were sent to the hospital in February due to possible overdoses, the request was sent via American  Medical Response, which is based in New Rochelle and serves Westchester County and New York City.

During the public comment, resident Jonathan Casper said a former volunteer firefighter also died due to the slow response time for an ambulance. “We live in a wonderful community,” he said. “We pay taxes. I can’t think of a better use of our taxes than something that protects us, our kids, our families, our parents. These people shouldn’t die for nothing.” Casper proposed the idea of a 24-hour dedicated paid or volunteer service.

Longer waits than 14 minutes

The question of raising property taxes to cover the cost of a new ambulance service was brought up by resident Steven Shekane. “It’s ridiculous we don’t have a dedicated resource here,” Shekane said. “I’m willing to pay an extra $350 to $500 to save my life.”

McLaughlin said he presented the idea of increasing taxes to cover the cost to senior citizens, members of the Pelham Civic Association and his own household, and none supported the concept.

“That does not represent the community,” said Shekane.

McLaughlin said the board is considering polling residents to see if they would consider a tax increase to pay for the service.

“It’s life or death,” said Shekane.

In recent months, there have been longer delays to get an ambulance to Pelham than the Clay Avenue incident.

At the meeting, resident Carla Caccavale said her son was injured in a modified football game in the fall and was on the field for about 45 minutes, with the fly car responding in eight minutes and the ambulance in 26 minutes.

“We’re all here to save lives,” Caccavale said. She stated paramedics thought it might be a neck or spinal injury, but later at Jacobi Hospital, it was confirmed to be a concussion. Caccavale said the other players were “petrified” and “rattled to the core” after watching her son lay on the ground for so long.

Resident Mark Cardwell also was a victim of poor response for emergency medicine—or in his case—no response. He has spoken out about the problem previously at town board and Village of Pelham Manor trustee meetings, including at sessions this month.

“I am outraged, frustrated and heartbroken that a man is dead in the wake of the town and village’s arrogance and incompetence around EMS,” said Cardwell in an interview with the Pelham Examiner. “When I broke both bones in my arm and lost consciousness in front of my home last January, EMS never arrived to help me. My neighbor broke a tree branch, we fastened a makeshift splint to my arm, and my wife drove me to the hospital, where I underwent four hours of surgery, and I continue to live through daily pain. This was dismissed by village and town officials as an anomaly, but after being forced to address the problem when presented by overwhelming evidence, they agreed to revisit the EMS situation and put out an RFP. Then earlier this month they announced the RFP had failed, and that they would not be able to make a change because it was too expensive.”

“Pelham Manor spends zero dollars of its $18 million budget on EMS,” he said. “It spends $5 million on police alone, but EMS calls make up the plurality of calls from residents (excluding automated burglar/fire alarms).” He provided a table of police calls for April that showed EMS calls (labeled aided cases) totaled 29, with the next largest categories being 17 car accidents and nine disputes. There were 74 automated alarms.

Village of Pelham Manor board replies

Cardwell spoke at the Village of Pelham Manor trustees meeting on Monday about the May 18 death.

Board members said the problem with emergency medical service was a national one, not a local one.

“EMS is in crisis across the country,” said Trustee Bridget Bennett, who is also police commissioner. “One of the reasons is because of Covid,” and the fact the companies can’t get enough staff. “That is not a Pelham or a Pelham Manor or a Village of Pelham issue. That is a nationwide issue. So to stand there and say we are doing nothing is not fair.”

Mayor Jennifer Monachino Lapey said, “Please know that I and the village manager spent time on the phone with Supervisor McLaughlin today. You know we take these issues very seriously and are committed to the safety of our residents. But even if the Town of Pelham had its own ambulance, there’s nothing to say that it would have been deployed elsewhere today, so there’s no guarantees. And they’re looking into that. I actually think that (town) board is doing a very fair job looking into alternatives.”

“It’s front and center in terms of action steps,” she said.

On the Clay Avenue death, Monachino Lapey said to Cardwell, “One thing I can tell you as someone who deals in facts and evidence every day is we don’t know the underlying condition of that person. We don’t know.”