Officials gathered in the Schenectady County town of Rotterdam today to discuss a new bill intended to provide state support for rural emergency services.
Outside Rotterdam EMS, officials unveiled a bill that would establish the New York State Rural Ambulance Services Task Force.
Democratic state Assemblymember Angelo Santabarbara of the 111th District is sponsoring the bill. The Rotterdam resident says rural ambulance and EMS services have faced declining revenues and unique challenges even before the COVID pandemic.
“We can’t let this issue fall by the wayside, especially now when access to these critical services is more important than ever, “ said Santabarbara. “It’s critical that we seek out innovative solutions, and that’s what this Task Force is going to do, and then it’s going to be our job to implement them. And this bill will allow us to move forward and take this critical step.”
Under the legislation, the Task Force would examine challenges facing EMS companies and employees.
Democrat Michelle Hinchey of the largely rural 46th District is sponsoring the bill in the state Senate.
“We have counties that don’t even have a hospital, right? So our ambulances and first responders are literally the lifeline,” said Hinchey.
Hinchey said ambulance companies already operate on a very slim margin.
Rotterdam EMS has struggled financially in the past. Down two ambulances, the non-profit organization received a $125,000 state grant last year to purchase a new ambulance.
Dean Romano, REMS Executive Director, said his organization functions on a fee-for-service model. He said the company does not receive municipal funding.
“Most other communities do write a check for each of those services to help support them on an operational basis, on a regular basis. In the town of Rotterdam we don’t. And so where you see that model you see ambulance services going out of business,” said Romano.
Romano said REMS hosts its own fundraising events a couple times a year.
“That nets us a portion of our budget but it’s a very small percentage of our budget.”
Another major issue facing ambulance companies is dwindling volunteers. Romano said REMS used to rely entirely on unpaid volunteers. Over time, more paid staff were brought on, and things started to get more expensive.
“And it got to a point where the insurances that you had to have for both paid and not-paid was more expensive than just going all paid. And that’s what we ended up doing here. And you see that in many different ambulance services, just not the insurance but the other infrastructure that you need for both volunteers and for paid staff,” said Romano. “So the number of volunteers that shrinks, slowly but surely, that plays a part into it. And, you know, it’s not easy to get paramedic certification.”
The legislation to create a Task Force to examine and make recommendations to lawmakers on ways to support emergency services comes as a non-profit ambulance company in the region represented by both Hinchey and Santabarbara is in the process of being acquired by a private entity.
The Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps announced on May 5th it would be renamed and acquired by Priority Ambulance. GAVAC said it would be renamed Lake Valley EMS “to reflect our growth in the Mohawk Valley and Adirondack Mountain Region.” The acquisition is pending final regulatory approval.
In 2019, GAVAC expanded its coverage area into Fulton County after two ambulance services there closed, the Johnstown Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Ambulance Services of Fulton County.
The lawmakers hope to pass the bill to establish the New York State Rural Ambulance Services Task Force before the end of the legislative session in June.