Press & Sun Guest Viewpoint: We Can No Longer Take Ambulance Service for Granted

 We would like to thank all the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers from across Broome County who recently met with us. We were also joined by County Executive Jason Garnar, Deputy County Executive, Mike Ponticello, Patrick Dewing, Director, Office of EMS, and EMS Coordinator Ray Serowik. We learned about the numerous challenges they are facing; challenges that threaten the very service we rely on to be there when we need it. Our main takeaway from the meeting is that we can no longer take ambulance service for granted, locally and in many other parts of the state.

During the meeting, Ray Serowik presented an overview of his report “The Level Zero” Crisis in Broome County; The Increasing Frequency of No On-Duty Ambulance Available for EMS calls. The report was written right before the pandemic and did not receive a lot of attention. In it he outlines how often “no on-duty ambulance” situations occur and offers a number of solutions. 

Most people would be surprised to learn that EMS services are NOT considered “essential,” or required by law to be provided by a municipality. A handful of states have changed their laws to address this, including Pennsylvania, but not New York.

Some municipalities fully support their EMS, some have created Taxing Districts to offset the growing costs, while others provide no assistance at all. We are supporting legislation that would address this, by ensuring that EMS services are in fact deemed as essential just as police and fire. Other changes to help municipalities will have to accompany this. 

Most local ambulance companies are staffed by paid EMTs and paramedics, but there are a few volunteer agencies remaining. In an age where volunteerism is dropping, there are fewer ready to answer an emergency call. Ambulance organizations regularly struggle with labor costs, training, recertification, and equipment purchases. Add this with insurance reimbursement problems, and you have a system in crisis. 

Just because an ambulance may have the word “volunteer” on it, someone still has to pay for the service. Unfortunately, the Medicare and Medicaid systems reimburse just a fraction of what the service actually costs, and a very high percentage of residents are covered by these programs. Services provided to the uninsured add additional stress to the EMS agencies. Couple this with responding to numerous public assistance non-transport calls that could be performed by a less expensive option. 

Further, some health insurance carriers reimburse consumers directly for ambulance services. But the patients have no legal obligation to turn the check over to the ambulance company; many do not. As a result, local EMS lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year this way. We are supporting legislation that would address this problem as well, by allowing companies to bill insurance carriers directly. 

Now is the time for you to learn what your town or village has for EMS coverage before you need an ambulance in the future. No one should take this “essential” service for granted. 

For a copy of the report go to:

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (123rd AD)

Assemblyman Joseph Angelino (122nd AD)