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State Bill Would Make EMS Essential Service

Chautauqua County EMS

Two state legislators want to redefine EMS as an essential service.

A.9509/S.8342 was recently introduced in the state Legislature by Assemblyman Steve Otis, D-Port Chester, and Sen. Shelley Mayer, D-Port Chester. The legislation would require EMS coverage, expand the benefits available to EMS personnel and set standards for EMS training.

“For years, our voluntary and other emergency medical service providers have been left to survive without acknowledging that they are truly ‘essential’ to our society. In addition, it is outrageous that our first responders can be denied health benefits when we turn to them to address our own medical emergencies. I am proud to fight to deliver the benefits they deserve and to provide every New Yorker with quality emergency medical care.,” Mayer said.

By establishing EMS as an essential service, municipalities would be required to provide it to their residents in a reliable manner as a matter of state policy. The legislation would amend the state General Municipal Law to allow governmental providers to allow for fees to be charged.

The bill amends state law to allow emergency medical providers working with volunteer and nonprofit EMS providers to be eligible for state health insurance programs regardless of their primary source of income, amends state law to make emergency medical providers working with volunteer and nonprofit medical service providers eligible for the state pension system.

The state Emergency Medical Services Council would be given expanded powers to recommend rules and regulations for EMS providers while the state Regional Emergency Medical Services Council would also have an expanded role in forming rules and recommendations. The proposal also creates an Emergency Medical Quality And Sustainability Assurance Program and creates a statewide Comprehensive Emergency Medical System Plan.

It would also create a minimum standard of care through regional and state EMS councils to guarantee all New Yorkers are receiving quality care.

“There is a staffing crisis in EMT services around the state. We must give EMT services the tools they need to attract and retain the personnel they require. This legislation will be an important step,” Otis said.

As The Post-Journal and Dunkirk OBSERVER reported recently, Chautauqua County’s fly car system has seen calls increase over the past four years from 1,851 in 2018 to 5,576 in 2021, with the program running an increasing deficit each year as well, starting at $467,239 in 2019 to $1,171,390 in 2021.

The county’s fly car system works with volunteer and paid fire departments to supplement their available emergency medical services. What started as a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., six-day-a-week program has expanded to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Noel Guttman, county emergency services director, said the program has grown from three full-time and four part-time staff members to 18 full-time paramedics, seven part-time paramedics and 13 casual paramedics.

“The overall mission is to save lives. It’s to help and treat people. That is the number one mission. It always has been and it always will be,” Guttman said.

The Post-Journal has also reported several times on the increasing number of ambulance calls being responded to by the Jamestown Fire Department at times when Alstar Ambulance is not available. The City Council recently turned down a contract with the union representing Jamestown firefighters that would have added four firefighters to staff an ambulance over cost concerns.

“Over the past two years, Jamestown firefighters have worked with the community and the city administration to find solutions to the pending EMS crisis, while also being good stewards of taxpayer resources,” Ben McLaughlin, Jamestown Professional Firefighters Association Local 137 president. “Unfortunately, because of the rejection of the tentative agreement, the issue remains. Over the last 10 years, ambulance transports have increased from 116 in 2011 to 1,130 in 2021. This is over a 1,000% increase. Additionally, the overall calls for emergency service are up 78%.”

The majority of the council also said in doing their due diligence, the terms of the tentative agreement were deemed untenable and financially unsustainable when coupled with the news that the (state) governor’s budget for 2022 did not include the $1 million in additional aid the city requested.

“The current city budget is now underfunded by $1 million and by 2024 there will be a budget deficit of over $3 million if the firefighters’ personnel agreement was approved by the council,” the news release stated. “We also understand that changes are needed in the provision of EMS services, however, the city’s current finances cannot support what has been proposed in the agreement and would unduly burden city taxpayers; alternative opportunities need to be explored.”

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