Moving toward countywide EMS

Essex County will first try it out with some towns, including Wilmington

ELIZABETHTOWN — The Essex County Board of Supervisors on Monday authorized hiring a new paid deputy EMS coordinator to help roll out a pilot program testing whether a countywide EMS system would be feasible.

The board voted April 1 to accept a $2.27 million, five-year state grant to fund the effort. That money will now go toward addressing volunteer labor shortages and critical emergency service gaps.

The new coordinator will be tasked with training local agencies, gathering data, administering the grant and other logistical tasks, according to board Chairman Shaun Gillilland.

“It’s a pretty big job,” he told the Enterprise, “particularly going forth starting from ground zero to establish a system. The candidate who gets this will have a lot of work ahead of them.”

Pilot program

As part of the pilot, four new medic cars will be purchased, and five full-time paramedics under the purview of the county are slated to be hired to supplement existing volunteer EMS operations in Wilmington, Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Moriah.

Those towns were chosen because they represent the highest dropped call rates in the county, according to county Manager Dan Palmer.

Of the four, Ticonderoga had the highest dropped call rate last year. Twenty-four percent of calls for help, or 214 out of 890 total calls, were dropped. When a call is dropped — or goes unanswered by a department — it’s forwarded to other nearby squads. That often leads to a longer response time.

By improving service in this four-town area, the county stands to unlock an additional $4 million in state funding that would be used to expand the system countywide.

The county also aims to recruit an additional 50 volunteers to supplement the approximately 200 who currently serve departments countywide. Officials hope to make the goal easier by offering $3-per-hour stipends starting in 2020 to certain volunteers who agree to be on call during peak hours or during shift changes.

But all of these changes require behind-the-scenes work on behalf of Essex County Emergency Services. Hiring a new coordinator is the first step to moving forward.

“The workload is too much for (EMS Coordinator Patty Bashaw) to handle,” said Palmer.

The department currently has three volunteer deputy EMS coordinators, some of whom also work as fire investigators, according to Bashaw. They don’t get paid. But the new deputy will.

Depending on how long they’ve worked with the county, the person hired could make anywhere from $52,388 to $58,011 per year. The first five years of the salary will be paid for out of the state grant. According to Palmer, the county doesn’t currently have a plan for how to fund that salary after the state grant funding runs out.

Bashaw hopes to fill the position, which is competitive and will be provisional pending civil service approval, in the next few months.

“We’re about halfway through the year, and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Essex town Supervisor Ronald Jackson.

Assemblyman Dan Stec and Sen. Betty Little — both Republicans from Queensbury, whose districts include Essex County — have introduced a pair of state bills to give the county authorization to create a new taxing district to potentially fund a countywide EMS system. The bills successfully passed the Senate last year but failed to pass the Assembly before the session ended. The county’s ability to establish a countywide system hinges upon the state Legislature passing the bills.

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