Warren County Emergency Services Director Brian LaFlure told concerned Thurman residents Tuesday March 12 that their medical emergency response needs — particularly Advanced Life Support, —could be met through a county system of roving ‘fly cars’ manned with ALS-certified responders.
Thurman residents confronting their town board over providing support for their struggling local ambulance squad heard from an area emergency official Tuesday March 12 that a regional solution for providing Advanced Life Support through the rural areas of Warren County was now under consideration.
At a town board meeting Tuesday, county Emergency Services Director Brian LaFlure told about 65 Thurman residents that their dilemma in keeping their local ambulance squad afloat — because of constrained finances and lack of round-the-clock trained staff — reflected problems faced by rural towns across the state and nation.
In response to their concerns about the availability of EMS services, LaFlure said that he has been discussing with county officials a system of regional emergency medical coverage that calls for a half-dozen trained ALS responders roving the rural areas of the county, ready to respond in “fly cars” that could arrive at a scene faster than a fully staffed ambulance could. Such roving ALS responders would supplement local squads providing Basic Life Support services, he said. Such a system has proven effective and cost-efficient in Columbia County, he said.
The dilemma volunteer ambulance squads are facing, county EMS Coordinator Micki Guy said, was the prevailing decline in volunteerism, coupled with the spiraling increase in training requirements for EMS responders.
She noted that while in past decades one adult's wages would support a household, leaving a partner available to volunteer; now two adults were out working several jobs to pay the bills. Availability for EMS duty, she said, is particularly critical during daytime hours.
LaFlure warned, however, that such a system might not be approved by the county’s full board of supervisors, because Queensbury and Glens Falls residents now pay for their own EMS services through their taxes and would likely be unwilling for their citizens to support coverage elsewhere as well.
He said that a lobbying effort would be needed to make the fly-car ALS service a reality within several years.
“With support like this, I could make the system work,” he said, looking at a large fraction of the town’s voters attending the town meeting.
LaFlure warned that Thurman Emergency Medical Services, an independent, volunteer squad which experiences about 100 calls per year, could not raise the funds needed through billing for services that it needed to keep ALS-certified staff on duty to respond at any hour. He said that squads need to have a minimum of 600 calls per year to stay afloat without substantial financial support.
“I give the Thurman squad a lot of credit for their tenacity,” he said, referring to the agency’s repeated attempts to stay viable despite the town recently ceasing its annual support — traditionally ranging from $27,300 to $40,000 per year — to avoid a hefty tax increase.
LaFlure said that providing modern EMS services round-the-clock was expensive, considering the cost of wages for qualified ALS responders, noting that as a Queensbury resident, he pays $190 per year through his property taxes for EMS services. This money goes to support the local squads' operations, and this special-district tax is supplemented by revenue from patient billing and fundraisers.
Thurman Emergency Medical Services is now back in action, LaFlure and agency officials said Tuesday — it's now operational with the support of the ALS-certified Warrensburg squad.
Although the Thurman squad suspended operations as of Feb. 16, it resumed responding to calls beginning March 8 with at least one squad member on duty in its headquarters and others at home nearby, according to squad co-captain Josh Hayes.
But LaFlure warned that with the ongoing uncertainties over the ambulance squad’s staffing and viability, the county’s emergency services medical director might have to withdraw his affiliation with the squad, which would force it to cease operations. The medical director has recently sent the squad a lengthy list of stipulations it must comply with to stay operating, LaFlure said. He also said that squads without ALS certification were severely limited in their life-saving capabilities.
Thurman squad president Jean Coulard, however, expressed optimism that her squad would remain viable. Its co-captains Josh Hayes and John O’Neill are both scheduled to take their Advanced Life Support examinations on March 23, and the squad could become certified several months afterwards, she said.
“The outlook is very good,” she said.
Recognizing the obstacles to survival for a small squad, Thurman Town board members, however, have suggested that the Thurman squad consider merging with Warrensburg Emergency Medical Services for efficiency’s sake and to acquire ability to provide ALS services. Thurman squad officials, however, have balked at the idea, questioning whether a merged squad would allocate sufficient manpower to Thurman to meet its residents’ needs. They also have decried loss of local identity and surrender of locally-held assets, including a headquarters their members built themselves.
Coulard said that while its agency is striving for ALS certification, the Warrensburg squad could provide intercept service, rather than making full runs to patients’ homes as it has been doing since Feb. 16.
Hayes said that the Warrensburg agency was intent on continuing full-run response, so it could be the sole agency empowered to bill patients for services rendered.
Warrensburg EMS officials, present at Tuesday’s meeting, are continuing to negotiate with the Thurman board for a service contract, as they have been losing money on responding to calls in Thurman, according to Warrensburg squad Captain Steve Emerson.
Near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the Thurman board went behind closed doors to discuss a potential contract with an unspecified corporation. No decision was reached on any potential action, Thurman Supervisor Evelyn Wood said.