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N.Y. county legislators call for passage of EMS bills

County executives are pushing for the passage of bills funding EMS


Kingston, N.Y. ambulances at a hospital.

City of Kingston Fire Department/Facebook

By Brian Hubert
Daily Freeman

KINGSTON, N.Y. — Ulster County Executive Jen Metzger and several county legislators jointly penned a letter to state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Carl E. Heastie on Tuesday, May 21, calling for the passage of a trio of bills addressing the crisis facing EMS services.

Metzger’s Office said it includes a bill introduced by state Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D- Saugerties, in March that would require Medicaid payments to ambulance services when transporting patients to places other than hospitals or for treatment they receive at scenes of medical emergencies. A companion bill, A.9102, is in the state Assembly. The bills would allow for Medicaid reimbursement for patient transport to urgent care clinics and mental health or rehabilitation facilities, Metzger’s office added.

“The current system of reimbursement only for transport to hospitals is nonsensical in rural areas, adds unnecessary costs and delays appropriate treatment,” she said.

Metzger also called for the passage of another pair of bills in the state Senate and Assembly, S.4020-C and A.3392-C, which would designate EMS as an essential service like police and fire and enable county and local governments to establish special taxing districts to cover the cost of operation, Metzger’s Office said.

Metzger also lent her support to a third pair of bills in the Senate (S.5000) and Assembly (A.4077), that would remove EMS services from the state’s property tax cap allowing local municipalities to expand and better support their local EMS services. Metzger’s office noted without the exemption, counties and municipalities will face major hurdles in establishing a special taxing district.

Metzger’s letter was co-signed by legislative leaders including Legislative Chair Peter Criswell, Deputy Legislative Chair Megan Sperry, Majority Leader Abe Uchitelle, Deputy Majority Leader Aaron Levine, Minority Leader Kevin Roberts, Chair of the Law Enforcement and Public Safety Committee Gina Hansut, Legislator and Deputy Chair of the Law Enforcement and Public Safety Committee Chris Hewitt.

“We write to you because our Emergency Medical Services are in crisis and you have three bills before you that together provide solutions to this crisis and will help ensure the sustainability and reliability of these critical health care services across New York State,” the letter, addressed to Cousins said. Metzger and county lawmakers urged the Assembly and Senate to pass the bills before the end of the current session to provide a pathway for communities to navigate the EMS crisis.

Ulster County, like many counties across the state, is facing a dire situation when it comes to ensuring adequate ambulance availability for its residents,” the letter said. “Over the years, there has been a severe decline in available ambulance units and alarmingly long response times, putting lives at risk.”

The letter stated that Ulster County has 20 emergency medical agencies that respond to 23,000 EMS calls per year, but 50% of them fail to respond to calls between 7-55% of the time. “Relying on mutual aid from neighboring agencies is no longer a viable solution, as these agencies themselves are struggling to provide adequate service to their own communities,” the letter said.

The letter said that situations where it takes more than 15 minutes to find an ambulance to respond from the time someone calls 911 for help are increasingly becoming the norm. “In some cases, the wait has been excruciatingly long, with families forced to transport their loved ones to the Emergency Room themselves due to severe delays lasting an hour or more,” the letter stated.

The letter warned state lawmakers that holidays and weekends especially present a challenge with instances where no ambulances are available within the county. Officials added this leaves the county’s 911 dispatch center searching high and low for mutual-aid ambulances from other counties leading to increased response times and potentially detrimental patient outcomes.

“With our County’s demographic expected to continue to increase in age, the gap between demands for service and local agencies’ ability to meet those demands will only grow,” the letter said.

The letter pinned the crisis on a steady decline in EMS volunteers, the low wages that many paid EMS agencies can provide, and “escalating costs and inadequate reimbursement rates for ambulance service.”

The letter called the current financial model for critical healthcare services “unworkable.”

Without a strong, healthy EMS system, our residents will continue to be put at risk of not receiving emergency medical care,” the letter said. “We urge you to expeditiously pass these bills so that our communities can take the necessary steps to ensure sustainable and resilient Emergency Medical Service now and in the future.”

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