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‘People will die waiting for an ambulance': Md. county EMS faces $2M budget cut, layoffs

Firefighters union in Allegany County fights against proposed cuts, layoffs as volunteer ambulance service sets to close

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Allegany County Department of Emergency Services/Facebook

By Teresa McMinn
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND, Md. — A proposed budget aims to eliminate roughly half the county’s emergency medical services staff and devastate an already diminished ambulance fleet, Steve Corioni said.

He is president of the Allegany County International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1715.

The labor union represents 46 of the county’s full-time Department of Emergency Services employees.

Proposed $2 million cuts to the EMS budget “will likely result in the removal of staff from three stations and the layoffs of 24 employees,” Corioni said.

He hopes residents will attend Thursday’s 5 p.m. county commission meeting at the Allegany County Fairgrounds multipurpose building where the draft budget will be presented.

“We feel this will create a public health crisis in the county and would like to rally community support to oppose these cuts,” Corioni said. “Make public safety a top priority ... let your voice be heard.”

The county plans to present the final budget for approval May 30.

Last month, county officials announced a $13.1 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2025.

“While we are seeing growth in real property, we are seeing some big losses in corporate personal property,” Allegany County Administrator Jason Bennett said at that time. “Some of the big corporate losses like the Verso (paper mill) closing is starting to really show for us.”

Replacements

Corioni talked of a growing local trend, to replace EMS volunteers with county employees, which began 17 years ago.

The first Allegany County EMS chief was appointed in 2007.

Soon after, the department’s staffers began to fill some daywork gaps for area volunteer companies.

“In the years that followed, services were slowly extended to a few other stations, and a night shift was added at two stations at the requests of those volunteer departments,” Corioni said.

Over the past 15 years, seven volunteer organizations have ceased their EMS operations, which removed eight ambulances from service and caused a 42% increase for the county’s emergency call volume, he said.

“Since 2017, the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survival rate in Allegany County has more than doubled, an increase of 120%,” Corioni said. “This shows our full-time 24/7/365 staffing is making a difference.”

In 2018, the Frostburg Area Ambulance Service stopped operating.

Around that time, the county made its EMS staff available every day, and put into service its first two ambulances, he said.

‘Waiting’

Corioni said the George’s Creek Ambulance Service plans to cease operations in July, which will remove two more ambulances from service.

“Four volunteer organizations that still operate an ambulance have county EMS staffing in their building,” he said.

Two others have a small group of paid part-time employees with some incentives for volunteers, “one of these being George’s Creek, which is on the brink of ceasing operations,” Corioni said.

“There are no (completely) volunteer EMS organizations left in the county,” Corioni said.

He fears a “domino effect” due to too few ambulances available for calls, which will require help and resources from outside the county.

“This happens from time to time now with current staffing levels, and will only get worse,” he said.

“Cuts to EMS funding will force the removal of career staff from at least three stations, jeopardizing public safety by significantly increasing response times throughout the county,” Corioni said. “People will die waiting for an ambulance.”

‘Skyrocketed’

In the past decade, EMS calls “have skyrocketed, up over 42%,” Corioni said.

“During that time, Allegany County Emergency Services has responded by increasing full-time employees and putting more ambulances on the road to meet the demands of our community,” Corioni said.

“Our members have been there when Allegany County residents needed us most,” he said.

“Now county commissioners want to gamble with the safety of our community and cut EMS services,” Corioni said.

The proposed cuts are “dangerous and unnecessary,” he said.

“It is up to (county commissioners) to do the right thing and make public safety a top priority for Allegany County ,” Corioni said.

He suggested a 5-cent public safety tax per $100 of assessed property value, which he said would mean roughly $6 more per month for the average county home.

According to county officials, that increase would generate roughly $2.4 million in revenue.

‘Decisions’

Agreed-upon revenue generators include fees for customers who use credit cards to pay county utility bills.

“This will account for about $500,000 in new revenue for the budget,” the county’s website states.

A decrease in capital projects would cut expenditures by nearly $2 million, it states.

“All county departments have been tasked with cutting their requested budgets by at least 10%,” the website states. “This will decrease the projected expenditures by about $1,200,000.”

The county is also expected to cut employee overtime requests and implement hiring freezes, an increased fee for 911 calls and higher prices for trash stickers.

“The good news is that we are planning for the future to prevent overspending,” the website states. “While we may have to make some tough decisions now, it’s all part of maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

(c)2024 the Cumberland Times News (Cumberland, Md.)
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