By GREG KLEIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Emergency medical services are struggling to respond to calls county-wide, leading Otsego County officials to consider stepping in with supplemental services.
“I’ve been in the service for 47 years. I have never seen it this bad,” said Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, Edmeston, Exeter, Plainfield, who is a member of the Edmeston Fire Department and Rescue Squad and the chair of the county’s Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee.
Wilber said he and his fellow PSLA members have been listening to Otsego County Emergency Services Coordinator Art Klingler Jr. and Otsego County E-911 Director Bob O’Brien. Both men have been warning them that a generation of EMS workers are aging out of service or have been discouraged by the lengthy coronavirus pandemic.
“Now it has become very evident that we need to come up with something to assist the locals in the process,” Klinger told the county’s Board of Representative during a special presentation Wednesday, April 7.
The duo made a presentation asking the board to develop a plan for supplemental EMS help, with a county ambulance and/or an advanced life support fly car to assist with response and transportation to people in need of emergency health help.
An ALS fly car is a medical vehicle that can respond to an emergency but does not do transportation.
“It’s becoming more and more evident we have to do something,” Wilber said. “We’ve got crews begging us for help. Partially because of COVID, they’ve just reached the end of their rope in their ability to supply and support their communities.
“If we haven’t already, we’re going to be losing people because we can’t get an ambulance to them,” Wilber continued.
O’Brien said he had been on the line as people died while waiting for responders and it is a heartbreaking feeling.
“Without going into particular details, I can tell you there have been a number of times already this year where we have lost people,” he said.
While the board met, a call could be heard in the background of the meeting, which was held via Zoom because of the pandemic and broadcast on Facebook. The call had been out for around 20 minutes, O’Brien pointed out, and was on its fifth agency request as the board members discussed the issue.
Wilber said he will discuss with Otsego County Treasurer Allen Ruffles if money from the federal coronavirus relief package can be used to purchase EMS equipment. He said he thinks it can and recommended the board consider using some COVID money for a county service, which would serve as a second responder when local town, village or city responders are having trouble getting to a person in medical need.
At the same meeting Ruffles said Otsego County is expected to get about $11.54 million from the relief package, which passed in March.
At a follow-up meeting for the PSLA Committee Thursday, April 15, Klinger and O’Brien presented tentative budgets for the county staffing an ambulance and fly car for 24 hours a day 365 days per year. The fly car would be a replacement to a pre-existing car in the county’s fleet, with staffing for it costing about $282,500 for six months. A county ambulance would cost about $153,000 O’Brien said, with staffing costing about $300,000.
The county would be able to bill users for its emergency services, O’Brien said.
Rep. Ed Frasier said until the county does a study of its needs, he does not have a lot of faith in financial projections.
“I would suggest it is on the county for the first year,” he said.
The PSLA committee will follow up with Ruffles and Otsego County Attorney Ellen Coccoma before making a final recommendation to the full board, which will likely be discussed in May.
“Each month we put it off is another month we push the crisis out,” Wilber said.