Despite staffing and funding shortages, EMS agencies respond to 135K calls per year in Monroe County

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – In the midst of staffing and funding shortages, our local EMS providers were honored by the doctors who take over care at local emergency rooms on Monday. Trauma surgeons at Strong and Rochester General Hospitals lauded the EMS agencies that they work with daily on the start of EMS week.  

“We are in the field approximately once every three minutes in Monroe County,” explains Timothy Kelly, the Chair of the Monroe-Livingston Regional EMS Council. But there are 44% fewer certified EMTs and paramedics today in New York State than there were just five years ago. “We struggle with staffing and sometimes we struggle with call volume,” Kelly says, “But we work together. I’m going to help you today, you’re going to help me tomorrow, but the most important thing is that we’re helping the patient every day.”

The main issue is money. Currently, the average rate of pay in Monroe County is $17/hour for EMTs and $25/hour for paramedics before overtime. Agencies need to bump that to recruit but, “When we’re relying on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, that doesn’t cover the cost of service, it’s a difficult situation and it’s not getting any better. So, those agencies that continue to run, have to cut elsewhere to try to do that,” says Tim Czapranski, the EMS Administrator in Monroe County.   

The trauma surgeons who receive the critical patients at our local emergency rooms say they know the EMS agencies are understaffed but, “I can tell you that despite those very real challenges that you speak of, in my experience the care hasn’t suffered and they’re still continuing to provide excellent care,” says Dr. Michael Vella the Trauma Medical Director at Strong Hospital.

“Yea, I think we should all be concerned about this,” adds Dr. Keith Grams, the Chief of Emergency Services for Rochester Regional Health, “This is something that should be on the forefront of our minds, unfortunately, things need to happen to provide more resources.”

Currently, the EMS agencies that cover Monroe County respond to about 135,000 calls per year. A number of those agencies have told News10NBC that without a bump in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates, their future is uncertain. Losing even one of them would have a cascading effect, “They’re vitally important to the community and it’s critical that these agencies stay open, have the staff, have the resources and equipment to do what they do because there is no question that without them, they’re the first link in the chain of survival,” says Dr. Vella.

So, in addition to pushing for more funding, the County is also trying to think outside the box for other solutions, “We suffer from a lower than national standard for bystander CPR, we need to improve that,” says Czapranski, “We need our people who call 911 to start actually doing high quality CPR and when it comes to AEDs, there are 1,400 of them throughout the county, how do you access them and use them with a patient in crisis, those are some of the things we need to engage our community in to help us.”

Of course, they have to be prepared for plan b too, “You had Chili Ambulance, Scottsville Ambulance, Henrietta Ambulance combine into one agency. Spencerport and Gates combined into one agency, so we’ve seen this kind of collaboration and consolidation before in our community,” Czapranski says.

One of the agencies currently on the brink is Webster Emergency Medical Service which is operated by Northeast Quadrant Advanced Life Support. It needs additional funding from Webster taxpayers to stay afloat. The Webster Town Supervisor has scheduled a public discussion on the matter for Thursday at 5:30pm. More information here.