Operating an EMS agency isn’t an easy task, but when someone dials 911 when a loved one is ill, they expect help to arrive ASAP. Many agencies manage to accomplish the expectations, but it is getting more and more difficult.
According to the January 2017 SEMSCO conference call meeting, some of the biggest challenges facing EMS in New York State include an aging population, chronic health epidemics such as obesity, longer travel times ambulance to scene to hospital, and a lack of public awareness. Areas highly dependent on Medicaid funding are finding that payments are less than their actual costs. Newer protocols and technologies, while designed to provide better outcomes, also bring higher training costs and investment in time, the purchase of expensive equipment, local tax caps and lack of community financial support caused by the lack of knowledge of how EMS works.
The staffing of ambulances also presents problems. EMS is not known for its high earnings of paid personnel. There is a high turnover rate as members move on to higher paying positions. Volunteer agencies have the added problems of providing incentive for potential members to join, asking for members to come in on their own time for additional training, and also maintaining an adequate volunteer base while personal lives seem to just get busier. According to this conference, the average age of an EMS responder currently in NYS is 40-years and older (both paid and volunteer services), and there are not enough active providers.
Often, new members come in enthralled with the idea of lights and sirens, CPR saves, delivering babies, action and excitement, and playing the part of the hero; most of these scenarios are used in recruitment videos, posters and other handouts. Members that join for the action are often discouraged when many calls are not much more than simple transports, fall down and go bump, and/or RMAs when a new parent is nervous about the baby’s first cold. Most EMS calls are not flying down the highway, running into the face of danger kind of adrenaline rushes.
Among the recommendations made to affect positive changes in EMS are increasing public awareness about funding, offering (and being able to afford) competitive salaries, working with the hospitals to recognize the value of pre-hospital care, encouraging volunteerism (which is comparatively low in NYS), and agencies joining forces to offer employees better benefits. There were also discussions about the increasing demands of provider certification, training of future EMS leaders, and improving the overall experience of the healthcare provider.
The report summed up NYS EMS Leadership Themes, “The EMS Community in NYS needs to develop the motivation to engage the broader communities in understanding EMS, expressing our vulnerabilities and potential, engaging others in solutions, and making sure broader constituencies see the value in what we have to offer and the risk of not taking a piece of the responsibility for our future success.”