N.Y. officials debate cost, sustainablity of EMS for rural communities
Saugerties, Ulster County officials debate disparity among providers, staffing and costs for smaller communities
By William J. Kemble
SAUGERTIES, N.Y. — Delays in releasing an Ulster County study on ambulance needs have raised concern among Saugerties officials that recommendations will lead to substantially higher costs and the raiding of personnel from emergency services that are working well.
On Monday, Jan. 15, town Supervisor Fred Costello questioned whether county officials understand how much effort has gone into having community-supported private Diaz Memorial Ambulance Services meet staffing and equipment needs to maintain its responsiveness.
“We have a very successful relationship in Saugerties with Diaz that works,” he said. “However, it’s expensive and that can’t be duplicated by a smaller community.”
Town residents will pay $2.68 million under a 2024 district budget that represents a 7.05% increase of $176,738.
“What are going to be the solutions for those smaller communities that might be more rural and don’t have an assessed value anywhere near Saugerties ?” Costello said.
Questions about what might be recommended by county officials include whether there could be a drain on Saugerties services that would create higher costs and reduce the efficiency that allowed Diaz to handle 100% of the calls it received.
Said Diaz Manager Lisa Benjamin, “What I hope will not come out of this study is their plan to build a countywide EMS system. My concerns about that are that there is not enough staff currently to go to another ambulance service. So what they would do is pull from the existing agencies, including mine.”
The disparity in available ambulance providers among municipalities is the result of emergency medical service not being considered an essential service under the law, which Benjamin said leads to an inability to have training reimbursed and a lack of incentives to retain employees.
“There are not a lot of paramedics and (emergency medical technicians) going to school anymore and there are not a lot of them coming out of classes anymore,” she said. “So we’re all fighting for the same group of people. If you add another agency into the mix they have to have people from somewhere. So they’re going to pull people from agencies that are already struggling.”
Benjamin added that there is a high rate of people who leave emergency services because of the stress and low pay.
“There are many EMTs and paramedics dropping out of EMS,” she said. “They don’t want to do this anymore. They’re going into nursing. They’re going into police work. They are going into other fields.”
Diaz has 28 employees who are scheduled as three crews during the day and two crews at night.
“I could use a ... couple of part-timers per diem to fill in when people take vacation or get sick but currently I’m able to keep my schedule full,” Benjamin said.
Ulster County Emergency Services Director Everett Erichsen and Deputy County Executive Evan Meist said last week they had completed the data collection phase of the study and described the report as being in the final phase of development. They both firmly declined to provide any indication of when a report would be ready, however.