Montgomery County preparing to fill gaps in ambulance service
Montgomery County has a new tool to provide help in case of an emergency. The county sheriff’s office is preparing to run its own ambulance service. It comes at a time when EMS providers across the nation are struggling.
“There was definitely a need, we wouldn’t have started this two years ago if it wasn’t noticeable,” said Sgt. Justin Smith, who will manage the new EMS division and is also a paramedic.
“It’s to no fault of the providers here, it’s an EMS crisis throughout the nation, it’s not just here in Montgomery County,” he said.
Volunteer ambulances that once served the county have all but disappeared. Two years ago, the sheriff’s office began to address the crisis with so-called “fly cars,” patrol cars stocked with medical supplies for law enforcement to provide basic medical support on a call.
“It’s our jobs here at the sheriff’s office to try to fix that and try to be partners with the community,” Sgt. Smith said.
Sheriff Jeff Smith explained that three agencies cover all of the county’s EMS calls.
“Unfortunately, we have lost all of our volunteer organizations. We have St. Johnsville Ambulance, Lake Valley Ambulance and Amsterdam Ambulance that handles the city of Amsterdam. […] Even though that sounds like a lot for a small county, there are many times that we run with a delayed response times or no ambulances at all,” Smith said.
They plan to help other providers 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Potential new hires are in training, and the office was pleasantly surprised by the number of applications they received, Smith said.
“As a supplemental service, we want to either provide assistance to the other providers or respond directly to calls if we’re closer and there’s no ambulance, and we’re the ambulance up,” Smith said.
The county has spent just shy of $130,000 on a new ambulance, and $20,000 on a used ambulance purchased from an agency in Vermont. They have spent about $80,000 on equipment. The money came from the county budget, and the office hopes to make up at least part of it with revenue from the service. Several local businesses have donated furniture and appliances to the division’s new home inside the sheriff’s office.
“EMS is difficult right now. We have shortages in staffing, longer waits at the hospital, and just the volume of calls that come in has created a problem for everyone,” Smith said, affirming his commitment to providing the service regardless. “When someone calls 911, think about your family, friends or in need of emergency medical services, you want to know that someone’s coming.”
The new ambulance is expected to arrive in February, when the office hopes to also finish hiring full-time and part-time staff.