Officials explore options for EMS services in Madison County
WAMPSVILLE — Madison County is looking to take the next steps needed to start filling the gaps in emergency medical service across the county, which like many areas across the nation have seen a decline as volunteer EMS technicians.
Recently, the county rolled out a pair of non-transporting EMS vehicles, also known as fly cars, to serve county-wide.
Madison County EMS Coordinator Jenna Illingworth said there are currently gaps in coverage across the county, resulting in long wait times for EMS services. “The other agencies in our county are doing the best they can with what they have to work with,” Illingworth said. “But it’s no secret that, across the country, EMS is struggling to get providers.”
The EMS coordinator continued, saying that insurance reimbursements are low and medicare and Medicaid reimbursements aren’t covering the costs of an ambulance. “And on top of this, a lot of our local hospitals have to transfer people for a higher level of care, taking our ambulances out of service for long distances,” she said.
The plan is not to replace current ambulance services in Madison County but to work with them to ensure a first responder is always ready.
In 2015, Fitch and Associates did an EMS study in Madison County and released their findings in 2016. “Some of the information wasn’t 100% accurate due to the data from our CAD system, but there was a lot of information that was correct and where the future of EMS was going if nothing was done,” Illingworth said.
Suggestions from Fitch and Associates were given to the county, along with projections as to what would happen if no action was taken. Illingworth said there were several agencies in Madison County that were upset with the study and its results. To that end, Madison County decided not to act.
“As of now, all of the things that were said in the study that would come true if we did nothing have come true,” Illingworth said. “We’ve lost a volunteer firefighter ambulance, and we’ve lost a lot of volunteers throughout the county. And a lot of agencies are unable to sustain themselves without financial support from their municipalities.”
When Illingworth came on a year and a half ago, the study was examined and one of the suggestions given was to establish fly cars. Illingworth said these vehicles are equipped with first-response equipment to start primary care of a patient when they call 911.
“They’re equipped with cardiac monitors, advanced life-support medications, and anything else needed to help an EMT be an EMS provider,” Illingworth said. “Each car is staffed with an advanced life-support first responder and a basic life-support first responder. Each car is on the road about eight hours a day, and on the weekends they’re staffed anywhere from 18 to 20 hours.”
These cars do not transport patients and instead provide care until the ambulance arrives.
“It fills gaps throughout the county,” Illingworth said. “If an ambulance goes out of service on a call or they don’t have coverage, the fly car goes to that general area to stand by and wait for a call to provide faster life support care.”
Since February, around 240 calls have been answered.
Madison County is looking to provide ambulance services on top of its non-transporting EMS vehicles. This was proposed in early October, but it’s been discussed in years prior. A proposal was made with similarities to Livingston County, which also run a county-wide ambulance service.
“We’re looking to build a county-wide system, which includes our current agencies,” Illingworth said. “These agencies would cover the same exact area they cover now.”
The resolution for the county-wide ambulance service has language to guarantee that Madison County would not infringe on any established ambulance services’ territories.
“We want to protect our ambulance services and keep them intact as much as we possibly can while helping them,” Illingworth said. The only way Madison County would enter these territories is at the request of the ambulance service or if the ambulance service can no longer operate under its own power.
The cost was another concern for this new ambulance service. To that end, the resolution giving Madison County its certificate of need to form an ambulance service included the directive to form a committee to determine how to help fund current ambulance service providers while also determining the best course of action to fund the new ambulance service.
Public Information Officer Samantha Field said at this time, there’s nothing set in stone on how funding will be accomplished.
“This was all brought forward after supervisors from different areas came forward, who either have ambulance service providers who are struggling, they have an ambulance service provider who wants to pull out, or they have an ambulance service provider who no longer exists,” Field said. “And that means long wait times, or if there’s one emergency, there’s no backup.”
“Supervisors were looking at this to find out how to provide care to residents, not to make money,” Field added. “It’s to make sure that when [a Madison County resident] calls 911, there won’t be someone there in 45 minutes. They’ll be right there.”
Illingworth said there are also considerations being made to establish a county-wide EMS training program.
“With this, we’d provide training to create new providers or to continue education of current providers, with the possibility of helping agencies with anything they need,” Illingworth said. “We’re talking about everything right now.”
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