Schenectady County

EMS seeks reprieve for helicopter missions

The head of the town Emergency Medical Service said on Friday he is hopeful the Town Board might rec
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The head of the town Emergency Medical Service said on Friday he is hopeful the Town Board might reconsider the decision to end helicopter missions with the state police.

“We are sad to see the program go and hope the board might reconsider the position assumed. At this point State Police are actively seeking another vendor,” said EMS chief Jon Politis.

The news this week that Town Supervisor Paula Mahan decided to cut the partnership because of costs and concerns about liability has set a somber mood in the town EMS department, according to Politis.

The Town Board met on Thursday and voted to delay decisive action and also set a public hearing for Aug. 14 on the partnership.

The labor union is meeting on Tuesday with town leaders to try to save the partnership that was started in 1993.

However, Politis said even if the board decides to restore the program, it would give state police only two weeks to figure out what to do.

The supervisor notified state police that the town was rescinding the program as of Sept. 1. “At this point it’s done. State police are seeking another partner,” Politis said.

Politis, and others who have worked on the town EMS, say ending the helicopter missions with state police will result in a loss of public safety because the medics went through advanced training, saw critical patients and got involved in rescue operations that raised their level of expertise.

“We were the first to provide many medical procedures and technologies that found their way into daily practice,” he said. This included airway management and pain management which, he said, translated to improved care when town residents were treated on 911 calls.

The town paramedics accompanied state police on 108 med flights in 2007. This included eight search and rescue missions.

Mahan said that the town has paid for training and equipment for the paramedics and she would rather have them provide service strictly to town residents.

Politis said that the partnership has generated $150,000 in revenues, over expenses for the town. “We bill patients. When we fly, they get billed for services on aircrafts.”

Yet Mahan, who is looking at many different cost-cutting measures because of an $18 million town deficit, said the EMS has also asked for more paid positions.

Politis said he did not request new positions in the 2009 budget, but asked the town to backfill one position in which the person left and to fill a couple other part-time vacancies.

Gary Favro, labor relations specialist with the United Public Service Employees Union, said the board didn’t expect this kind of reaction.

Favro said town paramedics are not a separate crew specified for flights and they primarily respond to 911 ground transportation calls. He said they only spent 250 hours on state police helicopter missions.

Mahan has disputed the numbers and said training and equipment is very expensive. The EMS has a $3 million annual budget.

“We want them to revisit it,” said Favro. “It’s a win-win for the community. I’m not sure why it is being done. There has never been a liability claim in any way, shape or form for the program since it started.”

There are 60 paramedics, about 18 trained as flight medics, and when on duty they are not dedicated to the helicopter mission. They only accompany state police when available, he said.

Politis said “The loss of the program is a significant blow to our department.”

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