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N.Y. county sees improved response times following ambulance service shift

A top official with Empress EMS said units responding to calls in the town of Ulster in three months has increased from 94% to 98%


Empress EMS ambulances outside of a hospital emergency department.

Empress EMS/Facebook

By Paul Kirby
Daily Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

KINGSTON, N.Y. — A top official with Empress EMS said response to his company’s ambulances are increasing to parts of Ulster County since Kingston opted to take over service on January 1.

Robert Stuck, Empress executive director, made his comments in a telephone interview Thursday in the wake of a 148-page Ulster County report that said emergency medical service is at a “crossroads” and which outlined seven options for the county to enhance ambulance service for residents and visitors.

“We were prepared, one way or another, once they ( Kingston ) had dedicated units either through Empress or fire department, isolating the only city in Ulster County, would allow our units to (better) serve other areas who are relying on us,” Stuck said.

For instance, Stuck said, Empress units responding to calls in the town of Ulster in three months has increased from 94% to 98%. Stuck said out of 592 calls Empress responded to 581 in the first part of this year.

In areas identified in the report as needing improvement — including Gardiner, Hurley, Modena, Shawangunk, and Pine Bush— response to calls for ambulance service has increased by 8% by Empress units, Stuck said.

Stuck said that his company is willing to meet with the smaller communities and discuss establishing a “shared services” scenario where towns pool resources to have Empress service. The practice has been successful in Dutchess County, Stuck said.

“We want to get into a room with these communities and say, ‘hey, lets come up with a solution,’” Stuck said. “We don’t know if the county is going to have the funding to cover such a large geographical area. “Empress has been extremely successful and has been even more successful since Jan.1.”

The report said there is a need for change.

“EMS in Ulster County is at a crossroads. Many volunteer, and even combination paid and volunteer agencies, are struggling to maintain service levels for their local communities, often relying on neighboring jurisdictions for an EMS response,” the report said.

The report, prepared for Ulster County by the Center for Public Safety Management, found that six of the 17 ambulance agencies, or 35% of agencies, are responding to less than 70% of their calls. Due to challenges facing rural EMS providers across the U.S. , combined with community feedback in Ulster County, these challenges are only likely to grow in the future, the report said.

One of the report options would be an entirely county-operated service with county employees.

The report said this option would also likely operate at a financial loss with an estimated annual subsidy exceeding $800,000.

At 12:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day , the Kingston Fire Department assumed all responsibility for providing all ambulance service within the municipality’s borders, after Empress EMS said it would require the city to enter into a paid contract of between $500,000 and $1 million annually for what Stuck has said would be an ambulance service dedicated solely to the city.

Empress EMS took over in June when it purchased the financially struggling Mobile Life Support Services, the company that had serviced the city.


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