Like many other businesses in the Hudson Valley, local ambulance corps have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ambulance corps have had to change their policies regarding how they respond to calls. They have been forced to interview patients before meeting them in person.
“If we approach a patient at home, we would actually have to conduct an interview through the front door with the patient to make sure they weren’t possibly COVID positive,” said Doug Foster, chairman of the board of directors and treasurer of the Wallkill Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
Foster added that the pandemic has created additional expenses. The ambulance corps had to purchase personal protective equipment and a decontamination system. This piece of equipment was used to decontaminate the ambulance after use by a person who could possibly have COVID-19. The system alone cost $2,800.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost of personal protective equipment has improved dramatically as the demand has increased.
“It’s been a huge financial strain on the volunteer and the paid service as well,” Foster said.
The Town of Montgomery Volunteer Ambulance Corps have also struggled to obtain personal protective equipment. The equipment had been placed on an allocation hold when they tried to order it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised fear for many ambulance corps members. They were nervous about contracting the novel coronavirus. In the beginning, there was immense uncertainty regarding how the virus spread as well as the preventative measures. Older volunteers of ambulance corps have not responded to calls because they were at greater risk.
One member of the Town of Montgomery Volunteer Ambulance Corps unfortunately contracted COVID-19 but has recovered.
This pandemic has stirred fear in many ambulance corps members as well as patients. The Town of Montgomery Volunteer Ambulance Corps have seen a decline in hospital transports.
“A lot of people are afraid that if they go to the hospital they are gonna contract it [COVID-19],” said Eric Shorette, captain of the Town of Montgomery Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Shorette noted that his ambulance corps was advised to tell patients without severe symptoms not to go to the hospital.
Even without the current health crisis, ambulance corps face many challenges. One major issue is their decline in volunteerism. This is because many adults have less free time. In most households, both spouses have to work to make ends meet. In some households, spouses work multiple jobs to pay their expenses.
In addition, many ambulance corps lack funding. New York State does not recognize emergency medical services (EMS) as an essential service. There is currently legislation in committee on the senate floor which would make EMS an essential service but it has been stagnant for three years now.
If EMS were to become an essential service in New York State they would receive increased funding, giving residents better pre-hospital care.
Despite the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, ambulance corps members continue to risk their lives to save others.
“We did still operate. We got out for the majority of our calls,” Foster said. “Paid staff and volunteer staff all worked together during the pandemic and continue to do so, as we’re not over this by any means.”