Essex County, NY, hopes to speed up 911 response times

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LEWIS, N.Y. (WCAX) Essex County, New York, is looking to revamp its ambulance services so that people get better care in emergencies.

When a medical emergency arises, every minute a person waits to get treatment counts. That's why Essex County is hoping to reduce the time it takes EMS crews to respond to 911 calls. "If you don't get out of service within eight minutes, it automatically goes to mutual aid in a neighboring town, which could be 20 minutes away, so that's definitely an issue if somebody's in cardiac arrest. That really doesn't help us a lot," said Patty Bashaw, Essex County's EMS Coordinator.

The Essex County Board of Supervisors and their public safety committee have been working on a new strategy to improve EMS services overall. They say one of the biggest challenges is that the number of new volunteer EMTs is dwindling.

"Maybe at some point down the road we'll have a total county professional EMS system as many counties around the nation have already grown to, but you want to do it, you have to do it carefully. The answers we're coming up with are not ones that are just gonna fall in place automatically," said Shaun Gillilland, the board's vice chair.

They have outlined nine goals for their plan, which include setting a target response time countywide, expanding EMS training opportunities, and consolidating smaller agencies.

For some locations, like the Champlain Valley Senior Community center in Willsboro, ambulance services are needed on a weekly basis. The center's Eli Schwartzberg
says they're glad to see that the county is making those services a priority. "If we have a fall, if someone hits their head, we try to minimize, but when it happens we really need the EMS here as soon as possible. Seconds can make a big difference -- heart attacks, if someone's unconscious, things like that -- It's critical. Every second counts," she said.

One way they hope to increase their response to 911 calls is by training more emergency responders, such as law enforcement and fire fighters, to do EMT work. That way if one of their departments can respond more quickly than the ambulance, the person in need will get help right away. "Right now we have four EMTs at the sheriff's department level, and they've already been out and using their skills, which is awesome. We're also hoping to get the fire departments involved, so again particularly on those critical care calls," Bashaw said.

They are still analyzing which towns need the most improvement, but they hope to begin implementing at least six of their goals starting in 2018.