COVA volunteer sees first-hand the value of locally based ambulance service

Posted 21 September 2020 at 10:52 am


Five years ago I signed up for what I thought was a Basic CPR class. I figured a few weeks and I would be certified and could ride on the ambulance and “help out”.  In actuality I had signed up for an EMT certification class which would span 5 months of intense study and signed a contract stating that I would owe $800 to COVA if I failed the class as they were sponsoring me.

This should give you an idea about how clueless I was about the EMS world and how removed my life had always been from what goes on behind the scenes of your local ambulance company, fire department and police department.

Fast forward 5 years. I did not fail the class and as of today I am one of only two active volunteers at COVA and learn something new every time I work. I still consider myself semi-clueless when compared to the people who have devoted their lives to EMS.

Working alongside paramedics and other EMTs with years and countless hours in the field, I have a different comfort level than I do in my normal life. I am grateful for their knowledge, professionalism and willingness to teach as well as their love of the community they live and serve in. I also now have a profound appreciation and gratitude for this community-based ambulance service that I once took for granted would always be here to serve us.

COVA is a non-profit organization and we are not government funded, which means we rely exclusively on donations, patient billing and insurance reimbursements. I always assumed that it was our right to have an ambulance in our town, just like it was our right to have police and fire protection. This is not true. If the funding isn’t there, it is a real possibility that we could lose our community based service.

This means that our families would be served by an ambulance that is not in our town. Instead of COVA’s average 911 response time of under three minutes, and average on-scene time of less than 10 minutes we could be waiting for an out-of-town rig to travel 30-40 minutes. This is the difference between life and death. I cannot imagine the helplessness of making a 911 call for a loved one and having to wait that long for arrival.

Did you know COVA serves the Village of Albion, and Towns of Albion, Barre, Carlton and Gaines including the Villages Rehab Center and both correctional facilities.

With our expenses, it is estimated that it costs COVA about $400 every time the crew and rig go on a call. Our monitors cost almost $36,000, our stretchers are about $17,000 and with other essential lifesaving items on the rig, we are carrying an estimated $125,000 worth of equipment and supplies to serve our patients.

COVA must also budget for almost $700,000 in payroll for our paramedics (average wage is $18/hr, EMTs (average wage is $13/hr) and staff. Our EMS crew and staff is currently some of the lowest paid in the state and some of our office staff have chosen to go volunteer instead of taking from the much needed income. We also pay over $70,000 for insurance, $10,000 for utilities as well as numerous other expenses.

Our average call for an ALS(Advanced Life Support) patient charges $1,000 plus mileage and a BLS (Basic Life Support) patient charges $700 plus mileage. Medicare will only pay about 30% of that charge and Medicaid will only pay 19%. Regular health insurance only allows a certain percentage of that as well. Going back to the $400 cost to get the rig to the call….you can see that it is not easy to stay afloat.

We need your help.  We are planning to meet with the boards at the Village of Albion, and the Towns we serve and ask for financial help by entering into a service contract that would alleviate some of our expenses.

We have been given a formula that is used by other nearby ambulance companies who receive financial backing from their communities. We are hopeful that our community leaders will agree that COVA Ambulance is as important as our fire department and police department wich already receive financial backing.

Please join us in our efforts to keep your families serviced by our local COVA Ambulance. Write, email or phone your town and village board members voicing your support.

Donations may also be sent to COVA Ambulance, 239 South Main St., Albion NY 14411.


Jennifer Stilwell