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Rescue calls require cooperation

When people call 9-1-1, they expect an ambulance staffed with well-trained Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel will arrive within minutes. It can mean the difference between life and death. Thankfully, the local response rate is so exceptional that complaints about ambulance service are exceedingly rare.

However, it is getting harder and harder to provide the high-quality EMS care people expect and deserve, especially in rural counties like Chautauqua. There is a crisis emerging in prehospital EMS, and it isn’t just a local problem. It’s affecting communities all across the nation.

Inadequate funding tops the list of complex issues facing EMS. Equipment and staffing are expensive. Some ambulances have to drive long distances, especially when the patient is in a remote area or the nearest hospital can’t provide the specific services the patient needs. Extra travel costs more time and money. Insurance reimbursements, donations, and fundraising events can’t begin to cover all of the costs associated with these critical services.

The reason people become Emergency Medical Technicians or paramedics is to save lives, yet it’s getting harder to attract and retain them. Some EMS systems rely on volunteers, which presents additional challenges, especially considering the time required for continuous training. All EMS staff have to constantly learn about new improvements in triage, treatment, transportation, and disaster response. It’s not an easy job, whether paid or not. Plus, being on-call can be punishing. Even when EMTs and paramedics have regular schedules, the emergencies they’re called to are, in most cases, stressful. Sometimes they suffer trauma too.

Some EMS systems operate smoothly, but others are not as well-organized or managed. Consequently, the speed and quality of care can differ depending on where a person is when they call for assistance. It shouldn’t be this way. The quality of EMS should be high everywhere, no matter which village, town, city, or region a person is in when the need for care strikes.

Some things can help. For instance, telehealth tools can help EMS providers facilitate consultations with doctors and specialists directly from the scene or while the patient is in transit, thus reducing the time from picking up a patient to starting treatment.

There were a couple of interesting developments in March, both locally and at the state level. The Dunkirk Fire Department and Chautauqua County Emergency Medical Services put together a joint services agreement, and New York state legislators proposed redefining EMS as an essential service. The state proposal would require municipalities to provide EMS consistently across the state. That would be a step in the right direction if funded adequately.

Calls for emergency service and ambulance transports here are already increasing dramatically. Should we suddenly face a large-scale emergency, like a natural disaster, a new public health crisis, or an act of terrorism, we have to be sure our local system is ready. These issues must be solved before a full-blown crisis occurs. The time has come to talk about sharing resources through mergers and consolidations, a regionalized system of care, or forming new taxing entities like fire/EMS districts.

The Local Economic Development Committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation has long advocated for “collective action” like this.

We have to ensure our local EMS can handle every patient no matter how many calls are received or when or why people call for help.

Patty Hammond is Economic Development Coordinator at the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation. The Local Economic Development (LED) Initiative is a standing committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation (NCCF). Send comments or suggestions to Patty Hammond at phammond@nccfoundation.org

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