Paid E5 staff will work with VAAS volunteers

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Ready to roll:  An ambulance is parked outside of its home garage in Voorheesville. The Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service is now working with E5 Support Services, which will supply paid staff to supplement the work of Voorheesville volunteers.

VOORHEESVILLE — Since becoming captain of the Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service in late April, Mitchell Donovan has worked hard to resolve the differences that have kept the service operating without a contract since the beginning of this year. The town of New Scotland has traditionally paid 61 percent of the service’s costs, and the village of Voorheesville has paid for the remaining 39 percent.

The ambulance company has now reached an agreement with E5 Support Services of Queensbury to provide and oversee paid staff who will work as needed at the Voorheesville ambulance company site at 21 Voorheesville Ave., Donovan said. The paid staff will supplement the volunteers as needed, particularly during daytime hours, when it has been harder for the service to get enough volunteers. E5 will also provide training and consulting services.

The contract between those two agencies is just the beginning of a continuing process. The service now needs to hammer out one agreement with the village of Voorheesville and another with the town of New Scotland. “We’re doing one contract at a time,” Donovan said, “so we’re not overwhelmed.”

He explained that the service has too many calls to rely solely on volunteers, whose numbers have continued to decline over the last few years. He added, “It’s not just us. This is a national problem.”

And it would be prohibitively expensive, Donovan said, for the village of Voorheesville and the town of New Scotland to support a completely paid ambulance staff. The service’s annual budget totals roughly $90,000; revenues recovered from the insurance companies of transported patients pay for about 60 percent of that, with the difference made up by the municipalities.

Next year, the VAAS expects to pay two emergency medical technicians $161,000 to cover about half of the yearly schedule, which includes any management, administration, training, or insurance that is provided by E5. Donovan estimated that an EMT earns about $14 an hour.

"We shopped this out very carefully," Donovan said, stating that E5 pays EMTs more and takes out less than other similar companies. The VAAS would pay E5 only for services actually used.

“There are just about enough calls,” Donovan said, “that we feel that part-time positions being available would be the best way to produce two results.” The service answers about 250 calls annually.

One of these results, he said, will be still having “enough activity to be attractive to volunteers, without overworking them.”

The other result will be keeping the ambulance service as a “very local resource” for the community, he said. “It won’t be shared with other communities, other than appropriate usage in terms of mutual aid.”

Volunteer work, for Donovan, is a passion. Over the past year, he told The Enterprise, he has been part of a team that helped to bring three people “back to life” during emergency calls — all three were his neighbors. “Rapid response time is essential,” he said. “In other areas, where ambulances are provided by neighboring communities, they don’t have the kind of results that we get locally.”

E5’s philosophy, according to Donovan, is designed around supporting volunteer services with carefully vetted providers. He said that E5 even tries to ensure that the paid workers’ personalities will be a good fit with the agency and the community they are hired to serve.

Donovan likes the flexibility that E5 has shown. “They don’t come in and say, ‘We’re gonna do it our way.’”

Paid staff will report to E5 Chief Executive Officer Doug Wildermuth, while volunteers report to Donovan. The management of both organizations will work together closely to ensure that things run smoothly, Wildermuth said.

Both paid staff and volunteers will be covered by workers’ compensation through E5, Wildermuth said.

E5 has a pool of employees “from all the various agencies,” Wildermuth said. “A lot of our employees like to travel and work in different agencies.”           

People who currently work as volunteers are welcome to apply to work for E5 if they wish to, now or in the future, he added.

E5 Support Services works with clients that include the Ballston Lake Ambulance Emergency Squad, Bay Ridge Rescue in Queensbury, Schroon Lake Fire Department in Essex County, and Hague Fire Department in Warren County.

Working as one

Wildermuth said he avoids animosity between paid and volunteer staff primarily through the interview process.

“We’re not just going to make sure you have a pulse and a valid card,” he said.

“We ask them (candidates) a lot of good questions and see what their background is like and how they would handle certain situations.” It helps that many of his employees come from a background in volunteer EMS, he said. “They typically understand if they were a volunteer, or are a volunteer.”            

He constantly emphasizes to his staff, he said, the importance of a team mentality. “When we get on scene, you’re not going to be able to tell who is paid or volunteer. You’re going to see a Voorheesville shirt.”

Donovan echoed this idea. “Our goal is to create an environment where the paid and volunteer staff are, to everyone except themselves, indistinguishable. There isn’t, ‘Well, this one’s a paid staff member, and this one’s a volunteer.’ Everybody’s going to wear the same uniform, they’re all going to be doing the same jobs, and they’re all going to be trained the same way.”

E5’s training focuses on maintaining the kind of professionalism and teamwork, he said, that will assure everybody in the community that the local area ambulance squad is there for them.

The ambulance company knows the community best, Wildermuth said. So his company listens to and tries to accommodate their needs. “Later on, if the VAAS should say,” ‘You know what? We need more staffing during the weekends,’ then we’re able to adapt to fit those needs, and therefore satisfy the community,” Wildermuth said.

 

 

The crew: Chris Hollywood, emergency medical technician; Lieutenant Kate Odell, Captain Mitchell Donovan; Treasurer Laura Blow; and Secretary Tom Dorn pose in front of a Voorheesville ambulance.

 

Ties to the community

In addition to any needed staff training, if requested to, the company can also step in to help the VAAS offer various kinds of training programs to the community.

Donovan, who will continue to work as a volunteer, said that he hopes the ambulance company will be able to offer “top-notch training” to the community in the future as well, possibly including not only such things as cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid but also defensive driving classes.

This would be good for the ambulance service in terms of public relations, he said, and might even help to prevent some motor vehicle accidents, “which would ultimately make the town and the village a little bit safer.”

Donovan added that the VAAS will continue to keep the administration and supervision aspects of the ambulance service local. He said that he plans to start reaching out to the community to see if he can create stronger tie-ins by recruiting new local volunteers from among “prominent members of the community” who will act not in a medical capacity but instead, for instance, serve on the board of directors or as treasurer.

Working out contracts

New Scotland Town Supervisor Thomas Dolin said that the town is still trying to work out a contract with the ambulance service. Asked if the negotiations were going in a good direction, he said, “Yes, obviously we’re trying to support the continuation of the VAAS. It’s been around for many, many years and we’d like to see it continue.”

Dolin went on to refer to Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple. Starting in October 2012, paid sheriff’s department workers covered Voorheesville ambulance calls during weekdays, with volunteers covering nights and weekends. “So I want to speak to Sheriff Apple as far as working out some sort of regimen as far as the coverage goes, between the two operations,” said Dolin this week.

More specifically, he said that New Scotland has an arrangement with the sheriff’s office to cover both the Voorheesville area and also the town’s second ambulance territory, Onesquethaw. He said that he doesn’t see a problem with the VAAS reestablishing coverage of daytime hours, using paid workers from E5.

“I mean, that’s what Altamont’s doing,” he said. “Most of these volunteer ambulance organizations are slowly gravitating towards part- or full-time paid EMTs. I think they’re just facing the fact that there aren’t sufficient volunteers anymore, especially during the day.”

Dolin said that he will suggest to Apple that the sheriff’s office continue to cover Onesquethaw during the day and that they “pull back” from Voorheesville.

Donovan said that the VAAS is taking its time with contracts, partly because he wants to be sure that their actions don’t adversely effect any neighboring services. He also mentioned the all-volunteer company, Onesquethaw, and said, “We don’t want them to be forced into changing the way that they do things, unless and until they’re ready to change things.” Each community is different, he said, and each ambulance company knows its community’s needs best.

Voorheesville Mayor Robert Conway said, “We’ve been working with Mitch Donovan on this for some time. He’s been doing yeoman’s work putting this together and he appears to have covered most of the bases.”

Donovan said that in the past few years the previous caption had done a considerable amount of work trying to resolve this problem “in another way, and then found it was not going to be possible through those means.” Basically, he said, the VAAS was trying to do all of the work that E5 had already done. “Of course, we were unaware,” he said.

Conway said that he expects Donovan to get a contract to the Voorheesville Village Board for consideration in the next few days. Conway also expects it to be “basically just a repeat of the 2014 contract.” The agreement between the VAAS and E5, he said, would be between them.

“It should be pretty straightforward,” he said, “at least for the balance of this year.”

The village board will have to take a look, toward the end of this year, Conway said, at what the VAAS is projecting as its budget for 2016.

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