Warren County must adopt an integrated or systematic approach to the delivery of Emergency Medical Services if those services are to remain available and affordable, a committee of Warren County Supervisors has concluded.
Among other things, the Supervisors agreed to ask the New York State Association of Counties to lobby state legislators on behalf of a bill affirming the right of counties to establish special taxing districts to finance rural rescue squads.
According to Board of Supervisors Chair Kevin Geraghty, legislation sponsored by State Senator Dan Stec and Assemblyman Matt Simpson to authorize counties such as Warren to create special EMS districts “never made it out of committee.”
A county-wide or inter-municipal district could generate enough income on a recurring basis to pay competitive salaries and benefits to EMS providers, Geraghty said.
Geraghty said state law currently allows towns to establish EMS Districts and many of them have, among them: Johnsburg, Bolton, Lake George, Chestertown, Warrensburg.
For the most part, these districts provide predictable and sustainable revenues to local rescue squads.
But as Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover pointed out, the costs of maintaining EMS departments, even when financed by local taxing districts, may soon outpace the ability of taxpayers to sustain them.
“The costs of EMS are going up quickly, and if insurance carriers are not picking up the full costs, the burden falls upon the municipalities. I don’t see anyone else stepping up,” said Conover.
Moreover, the municipal EMS taxing districts have had an unfortunate, unintended consequence: placing neighboring departments in competition with one another for staff.
“Emergency Medical Technicians are independent contractors; they’ll go wherever they can work,” Geraghty told the Supervisors’ EMT committee on December 12.
Recruiting EMS providers is a Zero-Sum game, said Glens Falls Supervisor Claudia Braymer.
“We’re competing with each other for the same people and the same resources,” said Braymer. “If one EMS department is succeeding, another may be doing less well as a consequence.”
Supervisor Braymer, who co-chairs the County’s special committee overseeing the distribution of $12.4 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, noted that the North Warren, Bay Ridge, West Glens Falls and Warrensburg EMS departments have all received federal funds.
(At a meeting of the ARPA committee on December 20, the committee voted to award more than $500,000 more to Fire Departments and EMS squads, including $52,300 for North Queensbury, $40,000 for Lake George and $75,000 for Bolton.)
Those funds are non-recurring revenues and cannot be relied upon to fund EMS squads in the future, Braymer cautioned.
According to Queensbury Supervisor-at-Large Rachel Seeber, the departments’ applications for ARPA funding are not only very similar, but in some cases, needlessly duplicative, buttressing the argument for a county-wide, inter-municipal approach to EMS.
“There is a common thread among all EMS departments: similar needs and concerns,” said Seeber.
To help subsidize local EMS squads, Seeber has proposed utilizing Warren County’s share of the $1.5 billion New York State received as part of a settlement with the manufacturers of opioids.
“Over the past several years, especially since the pandemic, we have seen the number of ambulance runs responding to overdoses increase,” said Seeber. “Why can’t we use these funds to help pay those costs and support our EMS departments within Warren County?”
According to Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino, the EMS committee chair, Warren County receives $250,000 to $300,000 per year from the settlements. It was slated to receive a total amount falling somewhere between $528,961.63 and $913,364.69
Merlino said he would refer Seeber’s proposal to the county attorney, who would determine if New York State could approve using those funds to support EMS departments.
According to New York State Attorney General Letitia James, the funds collected by the state from opioid settlements or through litigation are to be used to combat the opioid epidemic “with investments in prevention, treatment, and recovery.”
It is not clear if supporting EMS departments meets the state’s parameters, said Merlino.
Supervisor Braymer, who co-chairs the special committee overseeing the distribution of $12.4 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, noted that the North Warren, Bay Ridge, West Glens Falls and Warrensburg EMS departments have all received federal funds. But, she noted, those funds are not inexhaustible.
Supervisor Conover urged the committee to endorse a comprehensive examination of Emergency Medical Services in Warren County, one that would calculate long-term costs, provide alternatives for funding services and make recommendations for the efficient organization of an inter-municipal EMS department.
“We require a county-wide consensus, and we need to reach it relatively soon; otherwise, we’ll be having this same conversation in this same room five years from now,” said Conover.