Task force expected to be formed soon to seek solutions to local EMS crisis

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 December 2021 at 8:49 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: COVA Ambulance heads out for a call in November 2020.

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature in early 2022 is expected to form a task force to find solutions to an EMS system that is in crisis locally, with too few responders and not enough ambulances, often resulting in delayed responses.

County Legislator Skip Draper said a draft of members of the task force will be put together “in the next few weeks.” Those members will represent a cross-section of stakeholders, likely including officials from ambulance providers, fire departments, the Emergency Management Office, and town, village and county governments.

Draper said the larger group on the task force may be divided into smaller groups to look closely at all the issues.

The local government leaders discussed the issue during the Oct. 26 meeting of the Orleans County Association of Municipalities.

The county’s Emergency Management Office reviewed recent data showing 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, said 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 shortage of responders has long been a concern among local officials, but in recent months the response times have grown longer with more dropped calls in central and eastern Orleans, Niederhofer said at the meeting.

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.

The new task force will look for ways to strengthen the local EMS, and one solution may include creating some paid positions through the county government to help improve response times and service to residents in a health crisis. Some other counties have added ambulances and staff to supplement services and fill gaps in EMS coverage.

“There are 12 broken pieces to the puzzle,” Dale Banker, the county’s emergency management director, said at the Oct. 26 meeting.