North Country emergency responders face COVID-19 challenges, system survival in question

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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — As the COVID-19 emergency has brought on unprecedented challenges, rural EMS agencies are feeling the impacts.

The New York State Association for Rural Health published an article detailing obstacles felt throughout emergency responder services in the North Country.

Within the article, North Country EMS Program Agency Director Ann Smith, and members from the Gouverneur Rescue Squad Mark Deavers and Melissa Brook, discussed some of the unique challenges faced.

“We felt compelled to bring attention to this issue, not only for our community but for our elected officials in Albany and Washington DC,” stated Ann Smith. “We are gravely concerned by the possibility of another wave of the virus and the ability of our agencies to survive it.”

The NYSARH article addressed difficulties brought forward by the COVID-19 pandemic including staffing, personality protective equipment availability and financial pressures.

According to the association, especially in rural areas, staffing consists mainly through volunteers. The article stated that during the COVID-19 crisis, “volunteer providers found themselves making difficult choices: to follow their calling and care for their communities or to work their paying job and provide for their families.”

Additionally, the article stated that financial struggles brought on were due to the decreased volume of 9-1-1 calls made to EMS services. System’s reported that many patients waited until they became critical to call for help, driving down revenue.

NYSARH confirmed that EMS agencies were not provided increased reimbursement for confirmed or presumed COVID-19 patients to offset costs. This further drove financial struggles.

The Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization stated that these obstacles have led EMS agencies to question the survival of their provided services.

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