Saratoga County

Action on emergency partnership delayed

Members of the Colonie Emergency Medical Service asked the Town Board Thursday to reconsider the pla
Technical Sgt. Kathy Sweeney shows some of the controls inside the cockpit of a Bell 430 twin-engine utility helicopter that is often used for MedEvac operations at the New York State Police Aviation Unit in Colonie Thursday afternoon.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Technical Sgt. Kathy Sweeney shows some of the controls inside the cockpit of a Bell 430 twin-engine utility helicopter that is often used for MedEvac operations at the New York State Police Aviation Unit in Colonie Thursday afternoon.

Members of the Colonie Emergency Medical Service asked the Town Board Thursday to reconsider the plan to end helicopter missions with the State Police, and received at least a temporary reprieve.

About 30 EMS personnel attended the meeting in Town Hall, reading statements and seeking further discussion. The board went into closed session briefly following the presentation and then voted to delay any decisive action pending further research and public comment. A public hearing date is pending.

The labor union representing town paramedics had already asked for an emergency meeting with town leaders to try to salvage the long-standing partnership paramedics have with state police to staff helicopter medical and rescue missions.

According to an earlier announcement by town Supervisor Paula Mahan, the town would end the partnership Sept. 1 because of concerns about costs and liability associated with the helicopter program.

The paramedics who help staff the state police helicopter could be better used to respond to town emergencies, said Mahan, who took office in January and has been struggling to reduce an $18 million town deficit.

“We must use all town resources very wisely,” she said earlier Thursday. “Our primary concern is to serve the needs of residents in Colonie. The program with state police serves people outside the town. State police will have to find another way to serve this need.”

By ending the partnership, the town’s trained paramedics will be available to respond to 911 calls in town, instead of serving the broader Capital Region.

But Gary Favro, a labor relations specialist with the United Public Service Employees Union, which represents the 60-member Colonie Emergency Medical Services, said ending the partnership will be a huge loss to the Capital Region.

Favro said the town EMS was notified officially on Wednesday that the partnership would end. “I sent a letter immediately to the supervisor requesting an emergency meeting asking her to reconsider it.”

“If there is a problem, identify it,” said Favro. “We have not heard anything wrong other than it is a financial or liability issue.”

The flight medics, who go through specialized advanced training for rescues as well as life-support work in the confines of a helicopter, also respond to 911 and routine medical transport calls in town, which means residents benefit from this high level of training, said Favro.

“We don’t see anything logical. It’s a 15-year program that is well known, well established and well run. It’s respected by all agencies around here,” he said. “We hope we can get this resolved. This is a major loss and there is no reason for it.”

Mahan said the decision to end the partnership as of Sept. 1 gives state police time to find another service provider.

State police Sgt. Kern Swoboda, a spokesman, said they are exploring options to establish a service agreement with another EMS provider.

“Our goal is to minimize the disruption to provide medical evacuation,” he said.

State police have worked with Colonie EMS since 1993.

“We hate to lose any significant partnership,” said Swoboda. “They were great to work with, the major was glad they were part of our organization. They provided great service and were there when we needed them.”

It would not be practical for the state police to provide its own medics because this requires training, certification and the purchase of special equipment. “They are paramedics, they bring the expertise,” said Swoboda.

In each of its five aviation units around the state, the State Police contract with local EMS responders to provide service. There is no compensation from police, but the town paramedics can bill individuals for medical service they provide on the helicopter.

Mahan said that the town EMS has a $3.2 million budget and she said that Colonie EMS Chief Jon Politis recently requested funding for more paramedic positions.

Politis could not be reached to comment.

Categories: Schenectady County

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