NY county gets $6.5M grant to help struggling volunteer EMS agencies

Especially during the day, Lewis County EMS agencies have trouble staffing the rigs, which can significantly slow response times

By Lohr Mckinstry

LEWIS, N.Y. — Essex County has a $6.5 million grant from the State Department of State to create a countywide EMS system that aims to supplement or even replace struggling independent volunteer ambulance squads.

Especially during the day, EMS squads have trouble staffing the rigs, which can significantly slow response times and put those needing emergency care at risk.

In October, the county applied for an ambulance certificate of need from the State Department of Health for the new EMS system, which could come online sometime in 2019.


County EMS Coordinator Patty Bashaw said she and Anna Reynolds of the County Department of Community Services have developed a work plan for setting up the county-owned and operated ambulance service.

“Once we get the work plan submitted, then they (Department of State) give us back the contract (for) $3.22 million,” Bashaw said.

“It’s actually to spend in the first year, and once we show there’s a reduction in response time, we can apply for the rest of the $6.5 million total.”


As that innovation takes shape, University of Vermont Health Network, Elizabethtown Community Hospital has launched a paramedic program to address the shortage of responders.

Classroom instruction is held every Friday at the Essex County Public Safety Building in Lewis, where a class of seven will graduate in December 2019.

Video-linked classes are being held in Malone and Queensbury. The total inaugural class includes 22 emergency medical technicians from Clinton, Essex, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Warren, and Washington counties.


ECH Paramedic Program Director Bruce Barry said the state is phasing out EMT-Critical Care certification, so the next step after EMT is now paramedic.

“There was no paramedic training in the region,” he said. “We wanted a program that would be user-friendly. Everyone has a family, a job. We wanted to meet this need.”

The program includes online learning, as well as the weekly classroom sessions with lectures, quizzes, simulations and skill stations.

Barry said students study during the week, then travel to one of the three classroom sites on Fridays.


On one recent Friday, pupils at Lewis were studying anatomy, physiology, and the human skeletal system.

“They’ll build heart-lung models,” Barry said. “They will acquire very in-depth knowledge.”

The emphasis for the paramedic training is on evidence-based medicine, Barry said.

“That’s different from the way they’ve been taught in the past.”

The previous method was to treat patients more based on their complaints, not observations.

Paramedics can work more independently than Critical Care EMTs, who must contact a doctor for some treatment authorizations, he said.


The classroom work will wrap up in August 2019, then hands-on training will go to the end of November.

Student Brandon Minogue volunteers with Morrisonville EMS and works as an EMT-Critical Care at University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital.

“The class is reinforcing the things I know,” he said. “This is a great program to come to our area. I wish I had been able to do this sooner.”

The program is a collaboration among Elizabethtown Community Hospital, Mountain Lakes Regional EMS Council, Essex County Office of Emergency Services and North Country Community College.

“Paramedics are critical to providing pre-hospital emergency health-care services, especially in rural communities where the closest hospital may be an hour away,” Barry said.

The students will have access to 12 health-care organizations and 30 EMS agencies across Northern New York and Vermont to fulfill their hands-on clinical training requirements at the end of the class.


After completing the 15-month, 900-hour program, the first class of students will receive Advanced Life Support Certification and can take the New York State Paramedic Certification exam in December 2019.

Students who successfully complete the paramedic program are eligible to receive academic approval of up to 30 credits through North Country Community College.

Tuition and fees for the program are about $5,000, and financial assistance is available.

Applications for the next session will be available in April 2019. For more information, call 518-873-3022.

Copyright 2018 Press-Republican 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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