Small Towns, Volunteer EMS Are Caught in the Crosshairs

By CHARLES N. HOWE | Aug 22, 2018

During the closing day of the 2017 New Jersey legislative session, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney quietly pushed through a bill that requires emergency medical service personnel, both local ambulance providers and paramedics, to submit run reports to the state Department of Health for every patient who was supplied services.

The stated reason for these submissions was to keep track of response times by all providers, both volunteer and paid services. The bill made no provisions for funding (known as an unfunded mandate), thus forcing providers to pay out of pocket for the equipment necessary to submit the information to the state. This was not the first time Sen. Sweeney tried to put the squeeze on volunteer providers, but thankfully our former governor vetoed those measures.

It seems to me that Sen. Sweeney and some southwestern New Jersey power brokers are behind a push to make it harder for volunteer services to operate, or to put it more plainly, “let’s make them look bad so that the public will demand better service.” The state Health Department released data to the public showing average response times for both basic life support and advanced life support providers in each county. On face value, it seems straightforward enough. Look up your county and check out average response times.

Reviewing the data and how it was presented would no doubt cause concern in some areas, and that is exactly what it was designed to do. Sen. Sweeney has set in motion a deliberate plan to make us think that we are not being properly served by our local volunteers. The takeover of EMS services by private, for-profit interests is underway. Numbers can always be manipulated to show exactly what the provider wants.

Let me give you insight into what many small communities have in place. My small community is a perfect example. A 911 call is received at our county communication center. It is directed to an EMS dispatcher, who then directs both local police and EMS to the proper location. The police officer is a trained first responder and carries a medical bag with life-sustaining oxygen and is trained in CPR. The officer’s response time is normally one to three minutes. At the same time, an ambulance is on its way with EMT personnel and normally on location in less than 10 minutes. In life-threatening situations, paramedics are dispatched.

What the numbers do not show is that in most communities, people in need of medical attention are actually receiving care within minutes of their call to 911. And by the way, most volunteer services provide the care and transport at no charge to the public. Sen. Sweeney, we would like you to know that your approach is wrong and that the numbers are flawed. Maybe, just maybe, you should encourage volunteer service to communities rather than making it more difficult for them to function.

One other point I forgot to mention: Response times were initially the reason for gathering this data, but as it turned out, the state Health Department designed the reports in such a way that it receives all health-related information supplied by the patient and family as well as treatment information. To my way of thinking, this is an invasion of privacy. The ACLU might want to check this out.

Now to the small-town issue that concerns me very much. Recently Sen. Sweeney formed a task force (committee) to look into merging small towns of less than 5,000 population with other municipalities. The argument is that there is too much duplication of payroll and services and that we would reduce taxes by a larger, consolidated government unit. For your information, Sen. Sweeney, we small municipalities are not the problem, but instead have already figured out the solution to good management. Perhaps you should try a little harder to manage the New Jersey state government rather than looking at your own self-interest and that of your supporters.

Isn’t it interesting that the state mandates that municipalities balance their budgets and control spending, but at the same time the Legislature pushes problems down the road for future generations to pay? You should be forming a task force to spend less, reduce long-term debt, and let’s not forget the unfunded state pensions.

Perhaps it is time for a change of leadership. For the record, I’m a volunteer. I have no party affiliation but choose to vote for people who can do the job, and have compassion for those less fortunate.       

Charles N. Howe has been a homeowner in Surf City for 50 years and a volunteer with the Surf City Volunteer Fire Co. and EMS for the past 33 years. 


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