Companies doing their best to fix issues plaguing EMS system

December 03, 2018 07:36 PM

If you have to dial 911, you don't want problems. However, as a NewsChannel 13 investigation recently discovered, the current system leaves many medical responders underpaid and overworked. That means they may not be at their best when they answer your call.

Our report last week uncovered a number of issues plaguing the industry. To recap, we'll break them down, starting with a big problem that affects ambulance companies across the board – whether they be private, non-profit, volunteer, or run by a municipality. That problem is low pay.

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Next, the hours an EMT works are not regulated by the state and are based on self-reporting. Agencies that are short staffed have to enforce mandatory overtime, creating an unsafe environment with tired workers.

The cost of maintaining payroll, health insurance, life insurance, equipment, fuel and other ambulance related costs is very high -- and businesses can't recoup expenses, because EMS is not considered to be an essential service by the state like police and fire are.

Finally, companies are not being reimbursed for what they're spending, not by Medicaid or other insurance companies. If they go out on a call, but don't transport a patient, they lose out on that.

However, with all of these issues creating a systemic problem in the world of emergency medical service, there are companies that are doing their best to provide better pay. They're creating efficiencies and giving EMS the respect it deserves by treating it as a priority. One such town is Guilderland.

"Every step we make, every move that we make is always in the best interest of the community," explained Jay Tyler, Guilderland senior paramedic supervisor.

A paramedic of 15 years, Tyler knows the problems plaguing EMS are nothing new.

"It's not unheard of for EMTs and paramedics to have two [or] three jobs," he noted.

An entry level EMT in Guilderland will earn $16 an hour. Remember, Medicaid reimbursements fall short -- considering what ambulance companies actually spend on a call.

Also, treatment, but no patient transport to a hospital means insurance companies don't pay for services rendered and emergency equipment does not come cheap. 

A chest compression device that can help someone in cardiac arrest can set a shop back nearly $16,000.

"This is what we do. We know that this is an expensive business and we put our collective brains together to try to come up with more economical solutions," explained Tyler.

One solution has been to enforce a two-tier system. Instead of a paramedic responding to an emergency in a fly car to meet a driver and EMT, the paramedic goes with the EMT -- taking an extra vehicle and extra time out of the equation.

"If the patient is going in under basic life support and they take a turn for the worse, the paramedic can always get out and get in the back and initiate advanced life support," said Tyler.

The town also purchased a used bariatric ambulance they found at a New Jersey dealer, retrofitted it with a mechanical lift and stretcher, so that staff aren't injuring themselves when transporting a larger patient.

"The bottom line is that with that one ambulance, we were able to cut response times that were approaching 12 or 13 minutes on average to five or six minutes," pointed out Guilderland Town Supervisor Peter Barber.

He says the town has been preparing for two years to take on Western Turnpike Rescue Squad. As a result, for the first time in 15 years, residents will see a one-percent tax hike. For a home valued at $250,000, that translates to an extra $6.50.

"I don’t think for essential services, you can rely on gimmicks or any other way. I think you really should pay for it as you go," said Barber.

The recently approved increase will help to cover the cost of five ambulances, a 21 part-time employee payroll and two building mortgages the town will take on in the acquisition.

"I think everybody wants to make certain that their residents are fully protected and they provide the best service possible," asserted Barber.

That take over by the town of Guilderland is effective as of December 3.

NewsChannel 13 also uncovered that there are other communities, like in Colonie, where they are expanding staff, maximizing response times and winning "EMS Agency of the Year" awards.

As far as legislation is concerned, NewsChannel 13 recently discovered that Assemblyman Phil Steck has a plan to enact a law that would enforce a minimum wage for EMTs. We'll have more on his proposed legislation in the days to come. 


Karen Tararache

Copyright 2018 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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