‘An emotional issue’: Town board discusses future of EMS in Webster

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WEBSTER, N.Y. – The fate of EMS service in Webster won’t be known for awhile.

Town officials say their current EMS model is unsustainable. The topic was discussed at a Webster Town Board workshop Thursday.

The town uses Northeast Quadrant Advanced Life Support on Jackson Road, or NEQALS for short. The director there said his people have been stretched thin throughout the pandemic, and haven’t been able to bounce back.

Dozens of residents filled the town boardroom Thursday evening. Webster Town Supervisor Tom Flaherty said he’s surprised there weren’t more.

“Because it really is such an emotional issue,” he said.

Donna Nemitz was one of those residents in attendance.

“I wanted to make sure that my voice was heard, when it comes to saving lives, and making enough money for the ambulance to keep doing what they do,” Nemitz said.

But Nemitz kept her feelings to herself. At this workshop, the public wasn’t allowed to speak.

Flaherty said he wanted the night to focus solely on logistics, of both short- and long-term options for handling the crisis.

“It’s very incumbent in decision making, that the town board has to sift away that emotion – not politicize – and make decisions that are fact-based, and that I stand by,” said Flaherty.

Sayed Ahmed Mustafa is director for NEQALS. He said for the past few years, its income stream has been unpredictable. And, expenses continue to climb.

“Our hope is, as a board, that we can collaborate. There is something called the ‘cost of readiness.’ We only get paid today when we take a patient to the hospital,” said Mustafa.

He added that Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements aren’t high enough. On top of that, many of the people they transport procrastinate paying their ambulance bill for months.

Mustafa said it’s a model that just doesn’t work.

Just recently, the state pulled two of its ambulances out of service. A spot inspection found expired items, and rusted out door frames. Moving forward, NEQAL is requesting an EMS tax district be established in the town, and that its initial funding from taxpayers be around $40,000 a month.

“We did give a recent resolution that you heard tonight, to have some monies in the short-term and long-term,” said Mustafa.

“Those ambulances were taken off the road, they were left wide open. There were drugs in those,” said Flaherty. “And I don’t think I have to fill in what could have happened, for that, and the town is directly liable for that.”

Some options include Webster forming, staffing, and financing its own ambulance service. Another is to temporarily use Penfield Volunteer Ambulance instead. A third is to establish an ambulance tax district, which would allow NEQALS to raise property taxes to increase revenue.

“I just think we need some funding,” said Nemitz. “We need some funding from big taxpayers, that have some big money, that want to give to their community, through their hearts.”

The next meeting on this is set for June 8, and the public is invited to speak. Details on when and where are still being worked out. More information is available here.