By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE October 4, 2002 The face of the Jeffersonville Volunteer First Aid Corps may be changing.
After gaining approval earlier this summer to become an advanced life support (ALS) agency, the corps is looking to add full-time paramedics who will be paid to provide service to Jeffersonville-area residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week and theyre looking to taxpayers to fund the new services.
They literally can bring the emergency room to the patient, explained Corps Captain Tanya Hahn.
Which, she noted, is of vast importance in western Sullivan County, where the closest hospital is at least a half hour away and the closest paramedic service can take at least that amount of time to arrive.
Currently, the corps has between 20 and 25 volunteers who leave work in the middle of the day to answer emergency calls.
Like any volunteer organization, weve had problems with finding volunteers, but in the last four or five years, that has improved, Hahn explained. Fortunately, we have people who can leave their employment, and theyre local.
We all live and work and play right here.
Those volunteers are all certified to provide basic life support, but they cant perform most of the duties of a paramedic, like starting an IV, dispensing medications or inserting a tube.
What we do is an important step, Hahn noted. But the system works at its best when you can get the patient to the hospital quickly.
They will be administering what would be administered on a hospital level.
The corps also hopes to add a flycar so the paramedic manning the office in Jeffersonville can dispatch immediately to the scene of an emergency with an ambulance to follow.
Cost to the Taxpayers
But the service doesnt come without a cost, which Hahn and members of the local town boards want to make sure residents realize.
Currently, residents of the Town of Callicoon and portions of the towns of Delaware, Fremont and Bethel pay an additional portion of their property taxes to help fund the Jeffersonville Ambulance Corps services.
The remainder of their costs are covered by fundraisers and billing to insurance companies for trips to the hospitals.
But in order to add paramedic services, the corps is seeing an approximately $180,000 jump in its annual budget. And that will translate into a rise in property taxes in the area the agency serves.
According to Hahn, the cost for most residents right now is about 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. If the towns agree to renew the corps contract this year, that will rise to approximately $1 per $1,000 of assessed value or $100 for every $100,000 of assessment.
We have been in existence on the tax rolls since 1990, and we have never raised taxes, Hahn noted. We use insurance billing as a backup so we dont have to keep increasing tax bills.
But paramedics dont volunteer, she added. They require significant training.
Looking to the Future
According to Sullivan County Emergency Medical Services Coordinator Don Hopkins, the move toward paid paramedics on the volunteer agencies seems to be the wave of the future.
Already the Town of Liberty corps pays some paramedics in addition to utilizing its hefty staff of volunteers.
According to Liberty Supervisor Dick Martinkovic, the costs are covered entirely by billing to insurance companies. The town does not have a tax district for its ambulance corps, unlike Jeffersonville.
Everything is fee-based, so we never got into that, he noted. So far, theyre making enough to cover their costs.
And we now have the best EMS coverage available, Martinkovic added. We have the highest level of field medical service you can have its like having your doctor live next door.
Everyones been very pleased with the service.
The American Legion Ambulance Corps in the Eldred area has attained a level 3 ranking one step below the certification Jeffersonville has just been approved for.
Jeffersonvilles corps covers a 72-square-mile area and answers about 450 calls a year usually at least one a day.
Its an area thats pretty big for 20 people, Hahn explained.
According to Hopkins, Mobilemedic, which has an agreement with most of the towns in the county to provide paramedic services, usually stays in the towns of Fallsburg, Thompson and the surrounding area, because thats where the majority of the emergency calls originate.
For them to get to someone in western Sullivan County, the trip can take 20 minutes or more.
What Does Mobilemedic Do?
It depends how long it takes to respond, Mobilemedic owner Albee Bockman said.
He has sent his trucks floating through the western side of the county to respond to calls faster, and the Town of Liberty corps is on call as well to respond faster to patients.
According to Bockman, owner of the independently owned emergency service which has been providing advanced life support to Sullivan Countys towns since 1991, if Jeffersonville decides to add paid paramedics, it will throw a kink in how patients in western Sullivan County are currently served.
Bockman said he would be willing to station one of his trucks free of charge at the Jeffersonville corps building. He said hes been denied that option, a claim that could not be confirmed with the corps.
But, he said, if Jeffersonville is providing paramedic services in that area, he has no reason to put a truck in western Sullivan County.
There are less than 100 ALS calls in western Sullivan County each year, he noted. With a volume like that, for us to station a truck there would not have been feasible for us.
We will have to readjust their availability, he added. Our main issue is that although it is a small corner of our county, it is already being served by two paramedic corps.
In addition to Mobilemedic, the Town of Libertys paramedics will leave the township at times to answer a nearby call.
But if Jeffersonville adds paramedics, Bockman noted, then he expects the control center will send the Jeff paramedics to ALS calls in the region now served by the Upper Delaware Ambulance Corps for basic life support and by Mobilemedic for advanced services.
I have to make the presumption that the control center will use the closest unit, he explained.
Bockmans other concern is that he and the Liberty ambulance corps will be losing trained staff to the Jeffersonville agency, and that the added cost to taxpayers will be detrimental.
As a competitor, Bockman said he wishes the corps well.
I wish them the best of luck and know they will serve their area well, he noted. But this will interfere with the availability of other services to provide the care we have in the past.
ALS Is Needed, Say Officials
Indeed, not having paramedics on the western side of Sullivan County is of the utmost concern for most people.
On the western side of the county, theres not a lot of ambulance calls, but were waiting too long to get paramedics from the other side, Hopkins noted. But if someones having a heart attack on the western side of the county and one paramedic saves one life, well, thats worth $1 million to me.
But thats up to the towns to decide.
According to Hahn, when the idea to add paid paramedics was first brought up two years ago, she sought the support of local supervisors and the legislators before moving forward with certification.
And now the subject is back on the table as towns ponder raising taxes.
In the Town of Delaware, paying paramedics will be on the agenda of the Oct. 15 town board meeting, according to Supervisor Bill Moran (the issue has already been approved in the other towns, including the Town of Callicoon which the corps covers in its entirety, Hahn said).
The town will have to sign a new contract with the corps, he said, after discussing the issue.
It would be a benefit to have full-time paramedics on call at all times right at the station, he noted. It has the benefits of expediency, and they have an extra chance to save a life.
As far as the service goes, I see that theres no drawback, he continued. The only drawback for some people is an increase in taxes.
Deb Evans of Callicoon Center will see her taxes going up when the changes go into effect, and shes worried about the cost. But she still thinks its a necessary move.
Anytime you can get to the person quicker and start giving medicine or start an IV, you can save a life, she said. I just hope that theyll charge less when they bill you because theyll be charging more on our tax bills.