2 NC ambulance services close due to lack of membership, funds

Elm City Emergency Services and Stantonsburg EMS, both in Wilson County, have struggled to maintain a sustainable volunteer staff


Drew C. Wilson
The Wilson Daily Times, N.C.

WILSON COUNTY, N.C. — Emergency medical services agencies in Elm City and Stantonsburg have ceased operation due to membership declines and funding issues.

In a Nov. 26 Facebook post, Elm City Emergency Services Inc. said the organization was "shutting our doors for good."

Stantonsburg EMS and Elm City Emergency Services are both closing their doors due to lack of membership and funds. Wilson County EMS will take over for both services.
Stantonsburg EMS and Elm City Emergency Services are both closing their doors due to lack of membership and funds. Wilson County EMS will take over for both services. (Photo/Stantonsburg Emergency Medical Services)

"Elm City Emergency Services provided ambulance service to citizens in the northern portion of Wilson County since 1983," said Michael Cobb, Wilson County EMS director. "They helped many people and provided lifesaving services for more than three decades. We appreciate how they have supplemented ambulance coverage over the years."

Cobb said finding volunteers for emergency response is a problem nationwide.

"So this is not surprising," Cobb said. " Stantonsburg's EMS is also dissolving due to lack of volunteer services as well. In both instances, Wilson County EMS will continue to respond to these areas and the county is covered. We provide countywide coverage every day."

ELM CITY CLOSURE

Dale Osborne, board of directors chairman for Elm City Emergency Services, said lack of funds, COVID-19 and reduced membership shuttered the volunteer service.

"Employers are reluctant to let their people work because of the risk involved with COVID," Osborne said.

In 2019, the organization set up an online crowdfunding page to pay for ambulance repairs and equipment needs.

"The county has told us that funding would no longer be available for us," Osborne said.

Capt. Michael Lamm is an Elm City native who's volunteered for Elm City Emergency Services since 2014 and served as its most recent leader.

"I hate it and I hate it for the community," Lamm said. "It is something that I love to do."

Both Osborne and Lamm work full-time at Bridgestone and volunteer for the agency.

"Because we are a 100% volunteer agency, our budget depends on donations from the community and surrounding areas," Lamm said. "All of that became impossible when COVID hit. That was 90% of our budget and we just couldn't take it."

Lamm said that over the last several decades, the number of calls for service has dwindled.

As Elm City Emergency Services responded to a lower percentage of calls over the last several years, funding from Wilson County decreased.

In 2018, Elm City responded to 25.6% of calls, or 121 calls out of 472 dispatches. In 2019, that fell to 20.9% of calls, or 102 call responses out of 486 dispatched. In 2020 so far, Elm City has responded to 7.6% of calls, or 34 calls out of 442 dispatches dispatched in that part of the county.

Cobb said Wilson County doesn't fund Elm City EMS as a primary source.

"The county funds are simply a supplement to their operational budget," Cobb said.

Wilson County sent Elm City ES $2,000 in September after receiving a request for financial assistance to cover an operational cost.

Cobb said EMS coverage will continue just as it always has despite the closures in Elm City and Stantonsburg.

"The Wilson County EMS North Station in Elm City has an ambulance and staff housed at that location. It opened in 2014," Cobb said. "We are currently building an EMS South Station in Black Creek and we will continue to provide coverage for all of Wilson County. Wilson County continues to provide response and coverage countywide. We will adjust our surge plans and coverage for events previously staffed by Elm City Emergency Services."

Dale Childress, an Elm City Board of Commissioners member, said he hates to see the organization go, but he understands the situation.

"The effort that they put forward over the years to maintain this service has been phenomenal. They have served the community well through the years," Childress said.

STANTONSBURG CLOSURE

Capt John Schroeder, who's been with Stantonsburg Emergency Medical Services for six years, said the agency began shutting down in early November.

"It had been over a year since we had a crew together to run a call," Schroeder said.

Schroeder said there were only 10 volunteers on the roster. Lack of interest was the primary reason for the closure.

"We would still get toned out, but if we didn't have a crew together, Wilson County EMS would have to send a truck," Schroeder said. "We were pretty much not responding before COVID even started. The whole organization is pretty much shut down."

The agency has two ambulances it plans to either sell or give to a community college for training.

STEPPING STONE

Osborne said the purpose of starting Elm City Emergency Services in 1983 was to get emergency medical services to northeastern Wilson County residents in a timely manner. Osborne's wife, Terri Osborne, was a charter member and Dale Osborne has been captain off and on over the years.

"I hate to see it go. We have been involved in a lot of things," Osborne said. "Were are a lot of memories in 38 years."

Osborne said the Wilson County EMS building in Elm City provides an immediate response to emergency calls with paramedic-level services, which exceeds the volunteer agency's basic service level.

"The other part of it is the squad itself was a stepping stone for people who would become nurses and doctors," Osborne said.

Osborne said at its peak, the service had 30 or more volunteers, so many that members jockeyed for which night they'd be on duty.

"It's come to the point now that lives are so busy that people don't have time to volunteer like they used to," Osborne said.

Nate Stephens, an 11-year member of the Elm City service, called the closure "heartbreaking."

"It has been a big part of our lives for a long time," Stephens said. "We've been struggling for years to keep things going. It has gotten to the point that it has been hard to cover shifts. It's been coming for years. The squad was almost dying from lack of time support from members."

WILSON COUNTY RESCUE SQUAD

Wilson County Rescue Squad, established in 1963, was the first rescue squad in the county.

Chief Tony Barrick said his organization is healthy, but the expense of something like a blown engine or transmission failure in one of the squad's 1992 or 2001 model ambulances could easily spell the agency's end.

"Any day is a day that could be our last day. A bad transmission would definitely put a hurting on us," Barrick said.

Barrick said the rescue squad, which has a roster of 25-30 members, has been affected by the downward trend in volunteering seen nationwide.

"It comes down to funding and if we have the personnel. Since COVID, we haven't been able to have a fundraiser. It's hard to appreciate your volunteers if we barely have the money to keep the doors open," Barrick said.

Barrick said the squad's response rate dropped as volunteers left. The organization is still seeking volunteers.

"We are still looking to find people who want to serve their community and get some training," Barrick said. "We're still positive and thriving."

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(c)2020 The Wilson Daily Times (Wilson, N.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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