EMS bill remedies staffing problem in rural N.Y.

State Sen. Betty Little (Photo — Kayla Breen, Press-Republican)

The state Senate has approved legislation sponsored by state Sen. Betty Little to help address a growing crisis of insufficient Emergency Medical Services coverage in rural regions of New York.

Little, R-Queensbury, like many of her upstate colleagues, has heard increasing concern from municipalities and volunteer EMS squads that, due to fewer volunteers, increased training requirements and more people working outside their community, staffing is becoming more challenging.

She said there are places in the North Country that can take up to an hour for ambulance services to arrive.

“Our EMTs and volunteer firefighters are on the front line, and they do an extraordinary job,” Little said. “However, as many people are aware, there has been a steady decline in the number of people stepping forward to do this challenging work on a voluntary basis.”

The legislation would allow municipalities to group together to establish special taxing districts for general ambulance services. Currently, a town or village can create a special district, and can combine with a contiguous community. This legislation would expand the existing state municipal law, allowing municipalities to work with any other county, city, town or village, which Little said appeals to communities she represents.

“Many communities have turned to paid ambulance services, which seems to work well in suburban and urban areas. This legislation would help ‘rural New York’ by making it easier for more small communities to work together. They could coordinate across an entire county, for example, achieving an ‘economy of scale’ by sharing manpower and resources to ensure that rural areas have the coverage they need.”

This is a state-wide version of a bill that was passed last week by the Senate allowing a trial run to be executed in Essex County.

The legislation would require a report by the commissioner of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to identify challenges concerning volunteer emergency services or personnel.

Assemblypeople Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, and Carrie Woerner, D-Saratoga Springs, are also sponsoring this legislation, which passed the Senate with unanimous support on Wednesday and is currently pending in the Assembly.

This legislation passed in the midst of the state Senate recovering from a week or two of bitter, partisan fighting, during which no legislation passed.

The “bill jam” started when Sen. Tom Croci, R-Suffolk County, returned to active duty in the Navy several weeks ago, leaving both parties with an even 31 members each. Republicans have had 32 this session, as they are the majority party and the Senate requires 32 votes to pass any bill. In other words, Democratic senators have been needed to pass anything.

For the past two weeks, the two parties have found common ground to pass several bills, including the Essex County EMS legislation, before the Senate session ends on June 20.