Press-Republican

November 20, 2013

EMS volunteer woes spark discussion

By LOHR McKINSTRY Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Finding emergency medical service volunteers is getting tough.

And that might wind up costing the taxpayers in area towns.

At a recent meeting, County EMS Coordinator Patty Bashaw told the Essex County Board of Supervisors that finding ambulance-squad volunteers in Crown Point has become a big problem.

“I’ve been down there a couple times to help them brainstorm an idea to help come up with a plan for Crown Point,” she said. “You are going to see this across the whole county.

“You really need to be thinking outside of the box as to how you come up with a plan for your different towns.”

Supervisor Michael Marnell (R-Schroon) said Schroon Lake Ambulance is also having trouble finding people.

“I’m looking for ideas. I can see, if it goes the way it is, in two years, we’ll be looking to a paid EMS,” he said.

“Ambulances are out every day, sometimes twice, sometimes three times, and you are running the squad with a limited number of people. 

“We are going to be paying full-time personnel.”

‘COST OF AGING’

Bashaw’s home squad, Elizabethtown-Lewis Ambulance, has also gone to partially paid, she said.

“We have a paid person during the day, and then we have volunteers at night. I’m still having to pay people for the weekends, because people are working two or three jobs (or) they have kids. 

“I mean it’s just on and on.”

TRAINING DEMANDS

She said part of the problem is that the state constantly increases the amount of training needed, and people don’t have that much time to spare.

“The hours have gone from 110 hours for the EMT class up to 160, 170 just in this past year.”

The other part of the issue is Baby Boomers getting older, people living longer and shorter hospital stays that sometimes require re-admission when people go home too soon.

“Our aging population, particularly our 75 to 85, has boomed,” Bashaw said. “It’s (the cost) coming back down to the locals, just like everything else coming down these days.”

DISTANCE ISSUES

The remote location of Adirondack communities, far from hospitals, also impacts volunteerism, Bashaw said.

“I work every other weekend for Newcomb, and we are so rural that some of those calls are taking three, four hours. So being gone most of the day is kind of an issue, too.”

Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva) said that paid EMS squads are something many Adirondack towns are considering.

“One of the barriers that places like Minerva are looking at is that our EMS is tied to our Fire Department. Because they are one organization, the state has a law on the books that says that a joint organization can’t bill for ambulance calls,” she said.

“That’s a law that needs to be changed. Sen. (Betty) Little has worked on that, and that’s something that over the next year I think we should take up as part of our legislative package.”

EMS services in both Champlain and Mooers are examples of organizations that split off from fire departments in order to be able to charge for services and therefore afford some paid staff.

COUNTYWIDE EMS?

Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said one option they could consider is forming a countywide EMS district that would have billing and taxing authority.

“It is a problem in my community and probably every community. We should think about forming a countywide district for health care for the emergency services, the ambulance services,” he said.

“Then the county can bill back insurance and so on.”

A town can assume the operating license, called a certificate of need, from a fire department for an ambulance squad, Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) noted.

“The (Wilmington) Fire District turned their (EMS) certificate of need over to the town. (If) the town holds the certificate of need, the town can bill. We turn around and contract with the Fire District for service,” he said.

“In my opinion, that was the least intrusive, as far as forming another bureaucracy and another taxing entity,” he continued. “We’re on about year three, and it’s worked extremely well for us.”

‘OUTSIDE THE BOX’

Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said that being able to take some of the EMS training courses online would help attract more volunteers.

Bashaw said she recently taught an EMS class on advanced life support that picked up nine participants from Franklin County because they televised the class to them.

“We are thinking outside the box,” she said.

Email Lohr McKinstry:lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com