Pandemic takes financial toll on EMS providers

EMS struggles

EVANS MILLS, N.Y. (WWNY) - Fewer calls and costlier supplies are some problems COVID-19 has created for several north country ambulance squads.

Between March and May, several north country EMS organizations reported a drop in people calling.

Each says it was about a 40 percent decrease.

They point to the COVID-19 pandemic as the cause.

“Patients were very scared to call the ambulance,” said Leah Murphy, the director of operations for Evans Mills Volunteer Ambulance. “They were also scared to go into the -R. They were scared that they were going to get COVID.”

We’ve heard from volunteers at agencies like Evans Mills, town of Watertown, and Gouverneur and operations with an all-paid staff, like Watertown’s Guilfoyle.

All say they’ve taken a financial hit because of the drop in calls.

According to Murphy, insurance reimbursement is a big part of their funding.

“Our main support is our billing,” Murphy said.

They all report call volume is returning to normal.

But Gouverneur Rescue Squad director Mark Deavers says there are still issues surrounding protective gear.

“Not only is it difficult to get,” he said, “it’s also a substantial price increase.”

Murphy says in Evans Mills, the COVID-19 pandemic did create some staffing problems, which led to some overtime costs.

“We rely mostly on Fort Drum soldiers,” she said, "so, when Fort Drum locked down, they would not let their soldiers volunteer, which is understandable.

These issues are all highlighted in an August article published by The New York State Association of Rural Health co-authored in part by Deavers and North Country EMS Program Agency director Ann Smith.

Smith says one goal of the article is to bring awareness to problems the EMS system is facing.

“If another wave hits, it could be detrimental to the system,” she said, “and some of the agencies may not realize that now.”

But Murphy says she’s confident Evans Mills will still stand if that were to happen.

And the other agencies said they’ve prepared for that situation, too.

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