EMS advisory council will meet for first time Feb. 16

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 January 2022 at 4:07 pm

File photo by Tom Rivers: The Medina Fire Department heads down East Center Street on an ambulance call Friday that was outside the village.

An advisory council looking for answers to improving EMS service in Orleans County will meet for the first time on Feb. 16 at the Orleans County Office Building.

The council will have 35 members with a representative from each of the 12 local fire departments, 10 towns, four villages, four ambulance providers and county officials.

The group will likely break into subgroups to brainstorm ways to improve staffing or volunteers, response times, and help the ambulance providers be stronger financially.

Local officials say the local EMS is in crisis locally with too few responders and not enough ambulances, often resulting in delayed responses.

Recent data shows increased dropped calls and slower responses, especially in eastern and central Orleans.

The western end of the county, which is primarily served by the Medina Fire Department with career firefighters, isn’t plagued by the issues.

Justin Niederhofer, deputy director of Emergency Management Office in Orleans County, met with local municipal officials in October and they outlined some of the challenges in providing EMS services.

Some of the challenges include:

  • Many of the paramedic and EMT positions require extensive training, but don’t pay very well with little fringe benefits. The pay isn’t much better than working in fast food or minimum wage jobs, without the training and responsibilities.
  • The ambulance providers are fiscally challenged with low reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid, and many patients who keep the insurance checks rather than turning them to the ambulance companies, Niederhofer said. There are also many patients without insurance resulting in little revenue for COVA, Monroe Ambulance and other providers.
  • Dale Banker, the county’s emergency management director, wants to see the state change a law to allow the ambulance providers to directly be paid by insurance companies, rather than the checks going to patients who often keep them. The companies also need higher reimbursement rates to better cover their costs and pay their staff more.
  • Allen Turner, communications director at the dispatch center for the county, said many people call for an ambulance when they don’t need one, which stresses the EMS system.
  • In Orleans County, only the Kendall Fire Department continues to run an all-volunteer ambulance. Albion, Clarendon, Holley and Carlton all have taken their ambulances out of service. Kendall isn’t able to bill for its services because it’s all-volunteer. With only Kendall running a volunteer ambulance that puts more pressure on COVA in central Orleans and Monroe Ambulance for eastern Orleans to respond to calls.
  • The fewer ambulances in the county also are tend to be more unavailable with the closing of Lakeside Memorial Hospital in Brockport. Those ambulances have to drive farther towards Rochester to hospitals. Although the Brockport site is now Strong West, the ambulances still are often sent to Rochester hospitals and that ties up crews for longer times. Niederhofer said the short-staffed hospitals also are slower in being able to accept patients. What used to be one or two hour call is often four hours or more. That longer time commitment also is leading to increased burnout, especially for the volunteers, Niederhofer said.

County Legislator Skip Draper, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the advisory council will be looking for solutions for all the issues, and will study options for funding.