NY county considers stipends for volunteers in EMS training

The money would compensate volunteers for the hours of initial and on-going training required to maintain certification


By Whitney Randolph
The Watertown Daily

LOWVILLE, N.Y. — Lewis County is looking into whether it is possible to give volunteers a stipend while they are going through emergency medical services training.

Robert A. MacKenzie III, emergency management director/fire coordinator, said the stipend would help compensate for increased state and federal training hours required for EMS personnel to stay current, as well as for the number of hours required for initial certification.

The higher mandates require EMS providers to have more skills in the field and more responsibilities administering medicine, even for a basic emergency medical technician.

Mr. MacKenzie said the more rigorous training requirements are less of a burden for paid service providers and that state and federal government officials have not considered the people who work all day and then must attend an EMT course from 7 to 9 p.m.

Mr. MacKenzie said EMS providers or those who want to become certified are using their own vehicles, and the training is all on their own time. A stipend, if granted, could be provided at the completion of the training at the discretion of individual departments.

"We pay people to shovel our driveways. We pay people to take out our garbage. Why can't we pay people to take our sick or ill to the hospital?" Mr. MacKenzie said.

County Manager Elizabeth Swearingin said the county shouldn't look to the state for help in this area.

"We are not going to get a lot of support throughout New York state because we are one of the few counties that are volunteer; most others are paid," Mrs. Swearingin said. "For a paid employee, going to 190 hours of training — that is just a day they are not at work. ... We are going to run into a problem here, and we don't know how soon."

Mrs. Swearingin said the effects already are starting to show because there is a noticeable decline in the number of volunteers.

Mr. MacKenzie said in 2012, there were about 160 EMS providers in the county. Now there are 92.

He said another issue is the commitment of time.

With no specialty centers for strokes or heart attacks in the north country, Mr. MacKenzie said, Lewis County General Hospital is not the facility for cardiovascular emergencies. The patient is taken to Oneida or Utica, which is a much greater time commitment than a quick trip to Lowville.

"The level of care that our local population is receiving from this gracious group of volunteers is second to none, because not only do you get the level of care, you get your neighbor doing this job, and that is pretty special," Mr. MacKenzie said.

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(c)2014 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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