Town Council, police chief express no issues with SARCO

Town Council, police chief express no issues with SARCO

SCITUATE - The embattled Scituate Ambulance and Rescue Corps won a clean bill of health from the Town Council after Town Solicitor David M. D'Agostino reported that problems there have been resolved or are being addressed.

D'Agostino, who has made no secret of his and his family's long-standing support for SARCO, had been asked by the council to investigate the volunteer ambulance company after reports last month of missing drugs and mass resignations.

It turned out that reports of mass departures were erroneous, D'Agostino has said. The Breeze & Observer meanwhile has confirmed that the state Department of Health is investigating how the corps handles its medications in response to the charge that drugs have gone missing.

D'Agostino, at the March 13 meeting of the Town Council, presented details of discussions he has had with Commander Marybeth Ouellette about the status of SARCO. He met with her that week and said she provided a list of personnel now associated with SARCO, including "active crew members."

D'Agostino said he and Col. David M. Randall, chief of police, reviewed the list and found it satisfactory. "The personnel are all local," D'Agostino said.

He also received from the commander a copy of SARCO's corporate filings, and he noted that the volunteer ambulance corps has the same board of directors as the Scituate Health Alliance. The Alliance is an organization devoted to providing free health care to Scituate residents, which SARCO became part of in 2008, according to its corporate filings on the Secretary of State's website.

"The representations made by the commander are accurate and substantiated," the solicitor told the council.

Councilwoman Kathleen Knight-Bianchi, one of three council members who last year helped arrange annual funding for SARCO in the town budget, asked if SARCO is "on the run card," referring to the card used by public safety personnel to designate which rescue squad should respond to emergencies on any given day.

"They are on the run card," D'Agostino replied. He explained that SARCO personnel will contact the dispatch center for inclusion on the run card when they are in service. "When they are available, they will call dispatch," the solicitor said.

Richard Finnegan, a town resident and lawyer who frequently attends council meetings, said he was "perplexed" because he saw Ouellette driving a SARCO vehicle, a Dodge Durango, to deliver flowers from her Greenville business, Mother Nature's Florist Ltd.

However, neither D'Agostino nor Council President Charles Collins Jr. had a problem with that. The volunteer ambulance corps, along with fire departments such as North Scituate and Hope Jackson, own and control their own vehicles so each organization sets its own rules on how those vehicles are used, the two officials said.

Each organization pays for its own auto insurance, they said, and "the town doesn't even pay for gas," Collins added. "They are not under the control of the Town Council."

Also in the audience was Chief Adam Hebert of the North Scituate Fire Department, who asked about the missing drugs. D'Agostino said the federal Drug Enforcement Administration "did a surprise inspection" and site review of SARCO headquarters at 1003 Danielson Pike. He did not know the results of that inspection, but added that the person believed responsible for the missing drugs is no longer a SARCO member.

Randall, contacted by the newspaper this week, said his department is not investigating because no complaint has been filed with town police and he speculated that any incident at SARCO "may not have risen to the criminal level."

"If it had been directly brought to our attention, we would have done our due diligence," the chief said.

The health department is "reviewing protocol, that's what I've been told," Randall said, and is working independently of the local police force. From what he has learned, the police chief said the issue of the missing drugs appears to involve "administrative matters that need to be tightened up" rather than major criminal activity.

The Breeze & Observer contacted the state Department of Health to find out more about its probe, but a spokesman did not return a phone call before deadline.

Like the Town Council, Randall explained that he has no authority over the day-to-day operations of the volunteer rescue squad. His primary responsibility, he said, is to oversee the consolidated police, fire and rescue dispatch center.

"SARCO has provided service for a very long time and they do a great job, as do all the volunteers," Randall said. "That doesn't mean there isn't a bit of infighting sometimes."

Scituate, more than most towns, relies to a great extent on volunteers. Its animal shelter, for instance, is completely volunteer. Even the town's four fire departments run on a largely volunteer basis, with respondents paid only for each call to which they respond.

D'Agostino, after the March 13 meeting, remarked to a reporter that "sometimes you have to trust your volunteers."

According to corporate filings on the Secretary of State's website, the SARCO agency is a domestic nonprofit that is part of Scituate Health Alliance, whose officers listed in the 2013 annual report are: John Marchant of Scituate; Kobad B. Malesra of Cranston, a local dentist; Dr. Michael Fine, vice president, director of the state Department of Health and a town resident; Wendy Marchant of Scituate; and Lynn P. Blanchette R.N., assistant professor of nursing at Rhode Island College and a Hope resident. Established in the year 2000, the health alliance says it is funded by the town of Scituate, federal Community Development Block Grants, private groups such as the Gregson Foundation, and individual donations.

Before the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) became law, the alliance began with big plans: "Little Scituate, Rhode Island, aims to be the first place in the United States to offer population-based primary care to all residents," says an undated message from Fine on the SHA website, "and aims to be the healthiest place in the U.S. as a result, a community of people who are healthy together." About 10,000 people live in Scituate.