Alstar Loses Personnel To County Program

Dave Thomas, WCA Services Corp. executive director, discusses the need for more emergency medical service workers in the county with the Chautauqua County Legislature Public Safety Committee. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

Because of a decrease in the number of emergency medial service workers in the county, a crisis has started when it comes to the number of emergency calls being responsed to in an appropriate time.

On Wednesday, Dave Thomas, WCA Services Corp. executive director, discussed the EMS situation with the Chautauqua County Legislature Public Safety Committee. Thomas said in 2018, his organization, which operates Alstar EMS, received 20,000 calls and could answer only 16,000 because of a lack of staff. He said part of the problem is Alstar lost EMS workers when the county started its new emergency medical services program — also known as “fly-cars” — in August 2017. He added that right at the start of the new county program, he lost four of his most experienced medics.

Thomas said at the time county medical professionals were discussing the possibility of starting the county fly-car program, he was reluctant to agree to it because he knew Alstar would lose EMS staff. He said he continues to have staffing problems.

“We are in a crisis for EMS,” he said.

Thomas said because of the lack of EMS personnel that the Starflight helicopter emergency rescue service might be cut. He said the problem is only going to increase as the age of the county’s population continues to get older. He added that having two emergency response services doesn’t make sense if both cannot be fully staffed.

Committee member Paul Whitford, D-Jamestown, asked what can the county do to help the EMS situation. Thomas said there needs to be more communication between county and Alstar officials. He said there has been little communication between both sides since the county started their EMS transportation service.

Thomas said he is hoping to start some new initiatives to recruit more EMS workers. He also said county and EMS officials need to work on trying to encourage more volunteers to join local fire departments.

“Volunteerism is down,” Thomas said about the situation with the number of EMS workers.

For years, the fly-car concept was discussed as the number of volunteer EMTs decreased and the flow of emergency calls increased. A study conducted by a Massachusetts firm in 2016 recommended a county-sponsored emergency response program to assist volunteer responders and commercial response.

Paramedics operate three advanced life support vehicles, which are stationed in Ashville, Arkwright and Falconer. Fly-cars are equipped with cardiac monitoring equipment, pain medication and anticonvulsant medication, among other equipment. The vehicles are positioned to respond to calls in rural areas and the metro area, if needed. The fly-car system was established to provide swift response to 911 calls while supporting volunteer fire service and Alstar EMS.