New Scotland Committee addresses EMS coverage

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Discussing EMS services in New Scotland are, from left: Michael Dailey of the Regional Emergency Medical Organization; Debra Lobdell and Jenna Houck of the Onesquethaw Volunteer Fire Company; Adam Greenberg and Doug Miller, representing the town of New Scotland; Tom Smith, with the Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service; Albany County EMS coordinator Brian Wood; Jack Stevens, representing the village of Voorheesville; and Kate Odell, captain of the Voorheesville squad.

NEW SCOTLAND — As concerns grow about fewer and older volunteers to provide emergency medical services in town, a committee met for a second time Tuesday night at Town Hall. Members discussed the various options for the Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service, Onesquethaw Fire and Ambulance, and Albany County Emergency Medical Services.

“It’s crisis time for us,” said Voorheesville Trustee Jack Stevens.

VAAS has 15 members, which First Lieutenant Tom Smith describes as an “older crowd,” some of whom have volunteered for 25 to 30 years.

“We don’t feel we’re in the same position that Voorheesville is,” said Debra Lobdell, who is president of Onesquethaw. VAAS recently lost a co-captain and also has significantly fewer members to draw from compared to the entirety of OFVC’s forces who may or may not volunteer for EMS calls.

Differences like this were discussed at Tuesday’s meeting along with how such differences could affect potentially shared services. VAAS, for example, operates on a set schedule while OVFC operates with who is available to be on call.

VAAS also obtains funds in part from revenue recovery, in which the service collects fees from insured patients, something OVFC does not do.

Jenna Houck and Lobdell expressed concern over patients in their district being charged if VAAS were to answer calls in their district more often; the two ambulance services have already, on occasion, answered calls in each other’s districts.

“It’s not about the money,” said Houck, “It’s about patient care.”

Other committee members asked to leave issues of billing out of the discussion until a more concrete goal is realized.

Lobdell says that Onesquethaw’s EMS calls are answered by any, part, or all of the 65 members of the fire company. In the case of a fire-related medical emergency, all members will respond, but, in a strictly EMS call, a certain number of volunteers will respond, varying by the nature of the call. In the event of a more serious medical emergency, such as major car accident or cardiac event, a medic from Albany County will be called in, which, Lobdell says, is standard procedure.

The average age of Onesquethaw’s volunteer firefighters is estimated by Lobdell to be from the mid-40s to 50s, but she says that the ages range from 17 to 80 or even older.

Smith asserts that he would expect most if not all of of the VAAS volunteers to pass the county’s proposed agility test for EMS volunteers, which has not yet been implemented as part of New Scotland and the county’s renewed contract of shared services.

The agility tests discussed have included such requirements as the ability to lift or drag a mannequin for 25 feet, to carry standard equipment to a simulated residence or up a flight of stairs, and to lift a person onto a stretcher, according to Smith.

Big picture

VAAS Captain Kate Odell and Smith say the county provides supplemental coverage for their EMS agency mostly during the day, as that is when many volunteers for VAAS are working. Their agency receives approximately 300 calls a year, which are split with the county, with the county responding to about 100 of those calls.

In 2015, VAAS had employed the use the private Queensbury-based agency E5 Support Services but did not continue the arrangement following the end of their six-month contract.

Albany County’s EMS services are based out of New Scotland, but cover Bethlehem, Coeymans, Berne, Westerlo, and Rensselaerville as well as New Scotland. Albany County EMS Captain Brian Wood says that the reason these areas are covered is because they had no established EMS systems when the county set up its EMS team in 1996. Altamont, Knox, and Guilderland share their EMS services, and areas in the eastern half of the county have had established EMS teams for some time.

Wood was part of another initiative by Albany County to dedicate an emergency medical technician on call in the Hilltowns, which was scrapped after the town of Westerlo declined to pay its share of the plan’s budget. The Westerlo squad had raised some concerns about the plan.

Wood said that the difference between that initiative and any potential plans for New Scotland is that the county sheriff had specifically approached these towns, offering help, something Westerlo did not want. Wood and Miller also spoke of the initiatives such as merging the town of Bethlehem’s and the hamlet of Delmar’s ambulance services, and the consolidating of all five of the town of Colonie’s EMS teams.

Options open

“We’re just trying to bring this to the table with each other and with the county,” New Scotland Councilman Adam Greenberg told The Enterprise.

The possible options could bring about more effective services or be more cost-effective, but nothing has been ruled out, including the option of leaving the services the same, according to Greenberg.

“It’s more like we set up a committee to see what can be done better,” he added.

One possible outcome is overlapping coverage of the three services and scheduling the services together. There is also a possibility of looking into a means of attracting more volunteers.

The strength in a volunteer service is the free labor provided by volunteers, but this is also where their shortfall lies, as there has been a declining trend of volunteerism over the past few years — often attributed to high-pressure jobs and busier schedules. Odell says a past attempt to canvas for volunteers for VAAS led to disheartening results.

“I think we (volunteers) are a dying breed, I think we are a rare breed,” she said.

Greenberg says it is the first time as far as he knows that there has been such a committee, although Odell says that VAAS has been pushing for a committee for at least eight years, but there has been a reluctance to move forward with it and a lack of understanding the necessity of it. Still, there was some satisfaction in finally bringing all agencies together.

“We finally have all the players on the table,” says Smith.

Still in the stage of looking into the various statistics of each department, committee members are unsure of an exact timeline, but some estimate a procedure of around six months, with monthly meetings.

Any possible outcome is still unknown, but a meeting date has been set for July 12 at 7 p.m. at New Scotland Town Hall. The date was set in hopes to have received a verdict from the entirety of OVFC on whether or not they would like to be part of this project.

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