COUNTY TO LAUNCH FIRST OF ITS KIND EMS PROGRAM
03-31-10 - 2:00 p.m. - Starting tomorrow, living in much of Columbia County will be a little safer.
On April 1, Columbia County will institute a new emergency medical services program that will reduce response times and improve emergency care for residents in the Greenport and Valatie Rescue Squad districts, as well as those in Germantown, Clermont, Livingston, Taghkanic, Gallatin, and Ancram—the areas served by Northern Dutchess Paramedics.
The county recently received approval from the New York State Department of Health to launch the countywide EMS system, which is the first of its kind in the state. The plan relaxes “archaic” regulations that currently forbid EMS providers from standing by in each other’s districts. Under those existing regulations, ambulance crews could be delayed several minutes in responding to an emergency call— even if they were on standby on a district line.
Under the new plan, Columbia County 911 center dispatchers will be able to relocate ambulance crews to areas of need in participating districts—those of the Greenport Rescue Squad, the Valatie Rescue Squad, and Northern Dutchess Paramedics. This means that if Greenport Rescue Squad’s duty crews are all busy on calls, a 911 dispatcher may relocate a Valatie or Northern Dutchess crew to stand by in Hudson. Presently, those crews could only stand by on the Greenport/Livingston border or in northern Stockport.
County EMS Coordinator P. J. Keeler said that Philmont, Copake Community, Chatham, and New Lebanon rescue squads have so far not opted to be a part of the service.
Having EMS personnel at the ready in a central part of a rescue squad district is vital since, according to national emergency medical experts, cardiac arrest patients who do not receive defibrillation within eight minutes of a heart attack are almost certain not to survive. “The whole object is to make sure we have the resources where we need them,” Keeler explained.
The county is funding the new program with a budget line item of approximately $250,000 to be used to pay the rescue squads the full cost of responding to any emergency calls they answer when they have been relocated to other districts. The cost, said Keeler, is far less than the cost to the individual town taxpayers incurred if the rescue squads had to add another crew or paramedic to meet the rising demands placed on emergency medical providers. Keeler said he is not worried that in these tough fiscal times the item may be cut from the county budget. “By using existing resources, we have been able to increase the service we provide in a means that is far less expensive for the county to do it than if each individual agency were to do it and seek the additional funding from their respective towns,” said Keeler.
Other counties, such as Greene and Albany, have added EMS services to the rescue squads that currently serve those counties in order to address the needs of their residents.
The program now in place in Columbia County has been about a decade in the making and has been the subject of political debates among rescue squads concerned with maintaining their identifies while struggling with the financial realities of the EMS. “We have struggled for many years over how to keep the squads with their individual identities and keep them in business, while addressing the need for improved response times,” Keeler said.
As the number of volunteers has declined as a result of increased state mandates and the number of emergency calls has increased, squads have been forced to hire emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics. In the last twenty-five years, the county has seen a complete shift from rescue squads that are all volunteers to squads that are a combination of volunteers and paid personnel. This situation has resulted in rising costs--not only for the rescue squads but also for the communities they serve.
The change has been tough and has even led to the disbanding of the Southern Columbia Ambulance Squad, whose district is now served by Northern Dutchess Paramedics.
Keeler said the new plan will allow all of the rescue squads to keep their identities. He especially credits the New York State Department of Health Bureau of EMS “for all of their help over the last few years in getting this program ready.”