LAWRENCE — Mayor Daniel Rivera is hiring Lawrence General Hospital to provide ambulance services in an effort to strengthen the hospital’s standing in the region, as it plans a $72 million expansion.
Rivera said the move is also designed to end the “impropriety’’ that hung over the service when it was provided by Patriot Ambulance under former Mayor William Lantigua.
The switch comes just a week after the hospital announced the expansion, which will include a new surgical building and renovations to patient rooms.
“The hospital continues to grow and invest in Lawrence,” Rivera said in announcing he was ending Patriot’s work in the city after 15 years. “I want to support (the hospital’s) investment and help them grow and expand their world-class hospital services.”
Spokespersons for the hospital did not return phone calls for this story.
Rivera’s decision to drop Patriot comes even after the company hired one of the new mayor’s top advisers – and the brother of his chief of staff – as its first lobbyist in at least a decade. Patriot hired Rivera adviser David Torrisi, a former state representative, on Jan. 20.
A transition team appointed by Rivera to study the issues he would face said emergency medical response in the city needed to be quicker and cheaper and suggested moving the service to the Fire Department. The team also noted that the city received no financial benefit from the Patriot contract, but could if it were provided by the Fire Department.
Last week, The Eagle-Tribune filed a request under the state’s Public Records Law for a copy of the Patriot contract. The parts of the contract that City Attorney Charles Boddy provided did not include five schedules that contain the substance of the contract, including the scope of the service Patriot provides and the fees it collects from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies. The contact expired in February 2013.
Asked if he was dissatisfied with Patriot’s performance. Rivera said only that the company has been “a great partner for 15 years. Any municipality would find themselves lucky to have them.”
The Chelmsford company employs about 200 people and makes 50,000 calls a year for the seven communities and eight hospitals and long-term care facilities it serves, according to its website.
David Walton, the Concord, N.H., resident who is a co-owner of Patriot Ambulance, did not return a call seeking his comment.
The terms of the three-year contract with Lawrence General Hospital were not immediately available Friday, but Rivera said it does not include payments to the city.
Rivera said the contract with the hospital did not have to be publicly bid because the city would not be compensated for it. The contract also will not go to a vote by the City Council, which has authority to review contracts that are for longer than three years.
Patriot Ambulance is well-known on the street for its red, white and blue rescue vehicles, but the politicians who provide the company with its lucrative municipal contracts also know it for the sizable contributions it makes to their campaigns.
Since 2005, the last year records are available, Patriot employees and their family members have given $36,825 to political candidates in Massachusetts, including $6,550 to Lantigua’s campaign organization, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
Lantigua got his last check from a company employee on Sept. 19, two days after he came in first in the preliminary mayoral election.
Rivera defeated Lantigua in the final election on Nov. 5. Since then, the new mayor’s campaign organization has received $1,500 from Patriot executives.
The company also gave $5,000 to Rivera’s inaugural committee, as did its rival for the ambulance contract, Lawrence General Hospital.
Patriot’s contributions to political candidates have drawn little attention outside city halls over the last decade, but the company landed in the public spotlight three years ago when Walton and co-owner Maurice Ryan were subpoenaed by state and federal grand juries investigating allegations of corruption in the Lantigua administration. The company was not a target of the inquiry and was not charged. Lantigua also was not charged.
The grand juries questioned the men over reports that Lantigua pressured them to donate ambulances to the city of Tenares in the Dominican Republic, a city that has provided an influx of immigrants — and voters — to Lawrence.
Walton and Ryan have refused to say publicly whether they shipped ambulances to Tenares for free, but Rivera referred to the allegation yesterday when he announced he will move the ambulance service to the hospital within four months.
“This will also erase any appearance of impropriety real or imagined between the municipality and ambulance service providers that was common under the last administration,” Rivera said.
Lantigua did not return a phone call seeking his comment.
Rivera said his decision not to renew the Patriot contract represents a shift in the way business will be done under his administration.
“Anybody who thinks a donation to my campaign or inauguration was a quid pro quo to being handed a contract, that’s just not the case,” he aid. “The last administration had issues with impropriety. They didn’t care about it. I do.”
David Torrisi, Patriot Ambulance’s new lobbyist, and his family members gave $2,600 to Rivera’s campaign. The Torrisi family business, Jackson Lumber, gave another $5,000 to the mayor’s inaugural committee.
Torrisi also advised Rivera during last year’s mayoral campaign, was one of two lawyers who steered Rivera through the recount that followed the election, and was the master of ceremonies at Rivera’s inauguration. Chief of Staff Lisa Torrisi was Rivera’s first hire in shaping his administration.
Rivera said David Torrisi was part of the Patriot delegation that met with him to lobby for a new contract with the city. In an e-mail, Rivera said Lisa Torrisi was not involved in the decision, but did not say if she attended the meeting.
Torrisi did not return a phone call seeking his comment.