It’s a perfect storm for a crisis — call volumes are up but staffing has plummeted at ambulance squads throughout Essex County.
Some units, like Newcomb and Lake Placid, have hired full-time emergency medical technicians to staff their ambulances, while others, like Crown Point, are contracting with a private ambulance service.
The state requirement for an ambulance run is at least one EMT in the back with the patient — and it’s getting increasingly harder to find those volunteers.
The problem is statewide as training requirements increase and fewer people have time to volunteer, but it’s hit hard in rural Essex County, population 39,000.
“There’s a lack of volunteerism; quite frankly, that’s the bottom line,” Essex County Emergency Medical Services Coordinator Patty Bashaw said.
“That’s really the nuts and bolts behind it. People are just busy. They’re working more than one job.”
'JUST NOT THERE'
Bashaw said one solution may be to merge squads when the communities are close together.
“There also needs to be some way of generating funding because the volunteers are just not there,” Bashaw said.
An ambulance call in a remote place like Newcomb takes four to four-and-a-half hours, she noted, because the closest hospitals are at least an hour away.
“How are you going to get volunteers to do that? When somebody dials 911, they do expect somebody to show up. And our call volumes have gone up.”
She said EMT training used to be 100 hours, but is now 160 or 170 hours for a basic EMT, plus 10 hours clinical time. The increase is more physiology being taught, she said.
“The amount of hours spent in an EMT class now is phenomenal. I think we do make a difference as to patient outcome.”
There are three core agencies in the region that are approved by the state for EMT training, Bashaw said.