COOPERSTOWN, NY (WSKG) — Otsego County recently unveiled its new ambulance service. The county is using federal stimulus funding from the American Rescue Plan to pay for the pilot program.
With 20 EMTs and two ambulances, it is meant to support a network of volunteer emergency service squads across the county.
Outside of Oneonta, the average amount of time from when a person calls 911 and when they get to a hospital, is two hours and three minutes, according to 911 Director Robert O’Brien.
“It’s not because the volunteers aren’t trying, they’re doing the very best they can,” said O’Brien. “But the number of volunteers are dwindling.”
Rural emergency services throughout the country have struggled to recruit volunteer EMTs, especially during the pandemic. Training requirements are a barrier for some, and many residents are juggling other jobs that prevent them from going out on emergency calls.
Otsego officials also said it can be difficult for many EMTs to balance family obligations and regular jobs with their training and volunteer work.
The volunteers who are working are stretched thin, said Otsego County Representative Dan Wilber.
“They’re stressed. We’re working them, we’re pushing them to the limit,” said Wilber. “In many cases, you have the same six, seven, eight people in a squad that are responding to the majority of the calls.”
Adding to the challenge is the size of Otsego, says County Administrator Joshua Beams.
“There’s just so much land in between here and the hospital, you know, getting people there in a timely manner,” said Beams. “You have to have some kind of supplement nowadays.”
If a volunteer squad cannot make it to an emergency, the county ambulance service can jump in.
While the service is a pilot program for now, officials say they are planning to develop a system to pay for it, ideally allowing towns to opt in for the service.