Rural ambulance service: This is definitely a crisis situation
Is the future of ambulance service in in rural New York a consolidated system that would make up for shortages of drivers and nearby hospitals?
The COVID-19 pandemic is making clear there are serious emergency services problems in New York’s rural regions. Some state legislators are looking at new ways to get an ambulance and EMT to an emergency scene.
It’s part of increasing problems in rural health care: fewer hospitals, fewer volunteers for ambulance staff and longer waits in hospitals before the ambulance crew is released to head home. Some of the same problems exist in urban health care.
There’s legislation from state Senate Republicans to set up a new system of special districts with tax power to manage ambulance service in an area, perhaps in a whole county.
When State Sen. George Borrello was Chautauqua County executive, he helped set up a system of “fly cars” to provide serious emergency medical help on-scene in the county.
“This is definitely a crisis situation,” Borrello said. “There are a lot of pressure points, whether it’s wait times at emergency rooms, whether it’s a lack of ambulances that are available to transport. So there’s no doubt that this is something that has to be addressed and through something like this, again, it’s sort of a county-wide consolidation.”
He said travel time in rural areas is a real problem.
“That’s all time taken away from potential emergency elsewhere,” he said. “Thank God, we are blessed with Star Flight and Mercy Flight in our area and in others, because in our rural areas that is often the life and death difference from someone who has an emergency in a remote area and needs to get, like you said, to a Buffalo hospital for treatment.”
While the problem is especially severe in areas like the Adirondacks, represented by Sen. Dan Stec, Borrello said the problems drift into areas represented by Democrats and both sides might be able to work out something satisfactory to both. The idea isn’t new for Stec because his predecessor, then-State Sen. Betty Little, first introduced the special district idea.
Borrello said it’s a problem that requires government.
“The first job, the number one job of government is to protect its citizens and when you start talking about the life and death situation of an emergency response, this is an appropriate use of government funds, particularly if we’re talking about how are we able to work efficiently, consolidating these services,” he said.
Stec is also calling for a state study of volunteer fire companies and volunteer ambulance companies to come up with some hard numbers on how bad the situation is, when the red lights start flashing.