ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County is starting to look at formation of a countywide emergency medical services system that would provide ambulance transport service.
County Emergency Medical Services Coordinator Patty Bashaw told the County Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee on Monday that many ambulance groups in the county are struggling to find volunteers to cover shifts.
“That is clearly something to look at,” Bashaw said.
Bashaw surveyed all ambulance units in the county and found they spend a combined $3 million a year for EMS coverage.
Some squads, including Schroon, Minerva, Newcomb and Willsboro-Essex, have paid emergency medical technicians covering some shifts because volunteers are not available.
“Even paid departments are having trouble finding people,” Supervisor Stephen McNally (D-Minerva) said. “Maybe it’s time to consider a countywide system.”
He said Minerva Rescue Squad is converting to an independent squad, separate from the local fire department, so it can bill for its services. Fire company-associated squads can’t charge, under state law.
Some other counties have created countywide EMS districts, Bashaw said.
“Reaching out to those counties to see how it’s working is going to be my next goal,” she said.
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said he believes it’s time to start a countywide benefit district, with its own tax rate, for EMS.
“Everybody is dependent on this (EMS) service at some time or another,” he said.
“Some people contribute nothing to the service. You could be paying one amount, and the person across the street (in another town) could be paying less. That’s why a countywide system would be the best way to go.”
Bashaw said that in her town, Elizabethtown-Lewis Emergency Squad is struggling to cover weekends.
“Next weekend, we may not have daytime coverage and have to go to mutual aid.”
The state training requirement for an EMT-B is now 140 hours.
“The requirements get more and more, and there’s less and less volunteers,” McNally said.
“We’re looking at a 10 to 15 percent increase in our overall town budgets to cover this (paid EMTs).”
Volunteers would still be needed and would be an important part of any such system, Bashaw said.
She said she’ll continue her research on a countywide EMS district and report back to lawmakers.
Under such a system, Essex County could absorb existing buildings and vehicles and hire EMTs, McNally said after the meeting.
“It’s one of the most important departments we could have,” he said. “In our lifetimes, it’s going to affect everyone.
"Is there a better service this county could provide? I don’t believe there is.”
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