The fragility of rural emergency services

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 4/21/21

MONTICELLO, NY — The Volunteer Ambulance Corps of Livingston Manor asked Sullivan County for a one-time $3,000 grant from the discretionary fund to upgrade 15-year-old radio equipment.

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The fragility of rural emergency services

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MONTICELLO, NY — The Volunteer Ambulance Corps of Livingston Manor asked Sullivan County for a one-time $3,000 grant from the discretionary fund to upgrade 15-year-old radio equipment.

All the legislators supported what they did. Everyone agreed they were necessary. And the amount needed wasn’t large. But: 

“What’s going to happen if we agree to this?” asked legislator Joe Perrello. “Everybody’s going to be piling on, asking for money.” Could they get donations?” he asked. Then later: “This should be coming from the community.” 

“They stand out there [collecting] coins,” legislator George Conklin said. 

“If other folks come and ask, we have to take it on a case-by-case basis,” said legislator Mike Brooks. “We know they’re strapped, they’re volunteers, communication is a critical thing for these folks.”

Legislator Luis Alvarez stressed that patient-data reporting is going to be sent electronically from ambulances, so the upgrade is vital. Ambulances do receive revenue from insurance, but “it’s not enough to upgrade what you need, maintenance of the equipment... to help them serve the community, this is nothing.” 

“Something like this is critical to their functioning,” Brooks said. Uniforms could be kicked back to the community, but this is different.

He didn’t object to ambulances, Perrello said. It’s that Fallsburg levies taxes to pay for this kind of expense. “When do people stop asking other people to pay their bills?”

When, one might ask, is the county the funder of last resort?

Legislator Nadia Rajsz asked if there were state grants. They might exist at the county level, but how about towns? 

“I’ve been a volunteer fireman my whole life,” said legislator Ira Steingart. “And I very much appreciate what [ambulance corps] do. Do we know for a fact that they aren’t part of the fire district? I just think we’re going to have a lineup next year of ambulance squads.” 

But even that wasn’t the really important issue, he continued. The important issue was that all-volunteer emergency medical services face great changes with the distance that needs to be traveled and recruiting volunteers. He said the issue was “making sure that anybody who’s ill and needs an ambulance can get one in a reasonable amount of time.”

Perrello brought up a private company that wants to service Bethel, but nobody will provide a location for them to operate out of. “And it’s free. Free! That serves a big area, White Lake, Bethel, Eldred.” 

The emergency medical services department is working on recommendations, county manager Josh Potosek said, and they should be ready in the next several months.

“The bottom line,” Steingart said, returning to the original topic, “is that we’re not talking about a lot of money, we all realize that. And the radio is obviously extremely important. I just think that we’re opening up Pandora’s box.” 

They agreed to send it to the public safety committee for discussion.

For more about the $200,000 discretionary fund discussion and orgranizations that are routinely funded, go to riverreporter.com/news.

For more about emergency management, check out the EMS and fire special pages in the April 29 edition.

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