NY town renews EMS contract despite residents' complaints
Some Greenfield residents complained about 20-minute response times, but Community Emergency Corporation officials said those numbers are taken out of context
Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
GREENFIELD, N.Y. — Despite concerns from residents in the southeastern end of the town, officials said they will contract with the same EMS companies for 2021.
Supervisor Daniel Pemrick will sign with Community Emergency Corp of Ballston Spa and Jessup's Landing EMS in Corinth at $80,000 and $85,000 respectively. This comes after residents in that neighborhood, including the owner of the senior living community Prestwick Chase at Saratoga, complained that response times have risen after the town replaced the more expensive and closer Wilton EMS with the Ballston Spa outfit.
But Pemrick says that's not true.
"The response times are incredibly similar," Pemrick said. "As far as the town is concerned, we have no concerns whatsoever mentioned to the town of Greenfield or any of our ambulance services, as far as I'm aware of."
However, last March residents did raise concerns at a town board meeting. In an effort to reassure residents, Ray Otten, executive director of Community Emergency Corporation, shared response times. He noted the average response time in January was 21 minutes; in Feburary, 19.4 minutes; and half-way through March, Ballston Spa EMS averaged 21 minutes.
But when interviewed last week, Otten argued that offering averages takes the numbers out of context.
"Say you have 30 calls, 25 are Alpha calls and take longer, and are 5 Delta and Charlie calls and take less time, then they average out to 18 minutes, it's skewed to one way or another," Otten said. "The Charlie calls may have only taken 10 minutes. ... It's not responsible assessment."
He also said he did his own analysis of all the dispatches he received from Greenfield and compared them with other agency calls. He said the difference ranged from 8 to 10 seconds. When asked to share his calculations with the Times Union, he said he wouldn't without an in-person interview to explain the numbers. He did not accept a Times Union offer to discuss it by phone after he sent the information.
"There is much more to it than numbers," Otten said.
He also said his calculations "are not based on conjecture."
"That's what a lot of it is," Otten say. "People will say, 'Oh my God, it took them 25 minutes to get here.' Not really. If you consider what time we were dispatched. What time we were on route which is usually in two minutes. Then what priority is the call. We found out that a lot of the calls we get from Prestwick Chase are simple falls, where there is somebody on the ground. That's a nonpriority call. That's not a medical emergency ... It's not that we are complaining that we go up there for that. We are willing. ... It is not a priority call."
A 2017 research letter from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a nationwide response time for EMS averages seven minutes from the time of the 911 call to arrival on the scene to urban and suburbia areas (populations of 2,500 to 50,000). It also found that the median time increases to more than 14 minutes in a rural setting (populations less than 2,500) with nearly one in 10 encounters lasting almost a half an hour. To align with the data, Greenfield, with a population of more than 7,700, should have an average wait time of seven minutes.
Tabitha Orthwein, one of the residents who spoke up in a town board meeting, says she remains concerned.
"I'd really like to see the town board commit to conducting a report similar to the March 7, 2013 Report of the Town of Greenfield Ambulance Committee so that Greenfield residents are assured that they are receiving the best response times and service available to us," she said.
The report noted that "accepted national standards for geographical location such as Greenfield are 4-5 minutes for first responders and 8‐10 minutes for ALS (paramedic) and 10‐15 minutes for an ambulance."
The committee concluded that "response times to some areas of the town could be improved by having an ambulance located in the Greenfield Center area. In conclusion the committee recommends that the Town obtain a municipal certificate of need for operation of an ambulance from a location in Greenfield Center."
Pemrick said there are no plans to have its own service yet.
"It wasn't a recommendation," Pemrick said of the report. "It was a discussion, OK, about doing that. We have discussed it two or three times throughout the year. We have spoken to our representatives to send us some ideas on funding. COVID-19, obviously, put it the slow track....No formal action has taken place. No committee has been formed to bring more facts to the table."
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