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Looking for efficiencies

A Bay Ridge EMS ambulance parked at the Glens Falls Hospital with a patient in May. The squad is one of three that is meeting with town officials regularly to find cost-saving efficiencies.

QUEENSBURY — The town of Queensbury is moving forward with cost-saving measures for the local emergency medical squads, despite the paramedics’ reluctance.

The squads agreed to meet regularly with the town to develop cost-saving efficiencies. Town officials have found some, but the EMS squads have left meetings unhappy, said Supervisor John Strough.

The Town Board is trying to find a way to pay the paramedics more while staying within the tax cap. And that means reducing costs elsewhere.

“We’re starting small and working our way up,” said board member Jennifer Switzer.

They’re starting with purchasing — not medicine, but basic medical supplies, as well as janitorial supplies. The goal is to have all three squads buy together, in bulk.

It is not easy to start a joint purchasing effort.

“They’re all volunteers. They’re not used to doing that,” Switzer said.

In the next six months, she wants the squads to start coordinating joint purchasing. In that same time period, she’s hoping the Town Board will make decisions about new fees for emergency services. The board could start billing people who are treated and released without being transported to a hospital.

“That will free up money for raises,” Switzer said.

Change isn’t coming easy. EMS officials declined to speak on the record about the proposals, but said they were not thrilled. Switzer acknowledged that.

“I know there are individuals who may not be happy with everything we’re proposing,” she said. “But we also have to work within a tax cap.”

She is dropping one controversial idea that had been floated in previous years. She’s not pushing for the squads to merge.

“That’s something I’ve become more tolerant about, because we still need the volunteers,” she said.

While each squad is adding paid staff to supplement its volunteer workforce, every volunteer is a huge savings. And those volunteers tend to be loyal to one squad.

“There’s a certain camaraderie. We don’t want them to lose that,” Switzer said.

After purchasing is combined, the Town Board has set its sights on a scheduler who handles all the staffing for all the squads. The town might pay for a full- or part-time EMS coordinator to do the scheduling.

The idea is that the scheduler would know where each paramedic is based and which ones are certified for advanced life support calls. At times, only one ALS paramedic is on duty in town, at one of the squads. Ideally, this information would be available to dispatchers so that they could dispatch that paramedic to the most serious calls, even if the call is in a part of town not normally serviced by that paramedic’s squad. Currently, in those situations, the paramedic is called on mutual aid, which slows the response time.

The EMS squads have not yet approved an EMS coordinator, and Switzer said the town is working on that.

“They would all have to agree that it all has to be centralized,” she said. “The goal is to improve response time and use resources more effectively.”

She just keeps telling them that handling some things jointly, from purchasing to scheduling, is the only route to raises.

“They have contributed so much for the community for so long, but if they don’t ... we won’t have any money for raises,” she said.

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You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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