We started as a small volunteer organization in 1965 and have grown as our community has. We currently cover over 400 square miles in Monroe and Pike counties and handle over 3000 calls a year. Our coverage area includes Lehman Township, Middle Smithfield Township, Smithfield Township, Porter Township, and portions of Price Township. Our main stations are on Winona Falls Road, behind Foxmoor Village, and in the Village Center in Marshalls Creek Complex. We also have a unit housed in the Lehman Township Municipal complex.
April 2020 - This seems as good a time as any to give a report from the frontline, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) front line that is. For so long EMS services across the United States have been taken for granted, kind of the forgotten folks or “red-headed stepchild of medicine” as I refer to us. Today however, there are few who do not know the bravery, compassion and dedication these providers prove every day.
Merely a month ago, it would have been, call 911 and the ambulance will come. Don’t worry, they just will be there to take you to hospital for your emergency, genuine or not, but not today. Today we consider the people of EMS as front-line fighters, those who tread in waters that are uncharted.
What most people don’t realize is that the system of EMS in our area (Monroe County and Lehman Township) is created with the cooperation of all the local services working together in cooperation with each other. This doesn’t happen everywhere. In this local area, Bushkill Emergency Corps is the primary provider. Bushkill has been serving this community, as of this year for 55 years. As in years past, many of the providers are your friends and neighbors. Those who are not from here come to know patients as neighbors too.
It is a grassroots, community-based organization. The only one left in this area, as an aside. Every organization has its own primary service area, but when the “rubber hits the road” as they say, we help each other. There is no “appointment” for an emergency. Sometimes they come in nicely spaced and other times, everyone needs help at the same time. Then we all cover each other.
Back to the frontline today. Some of the information that our providers have been educated with I’ll share with readers today. Scientists have confirmed that this virus can “live” on any surface for at least 18 days. This is scary stuff.
The virus can be contracted through sneezing, sweating and through the tear ducts (nose, face, mouth.) This is why you are told keep your hands away from your face and wash them all the time. That means over and over.
A person could sneeze in a room and because the virus is suspended in the air, in water droplets, and depending upon the humidity, could remain in the air for up to 2-3 hours. Therefore, providers may “walk into” the virus long after someone has left the area. Scary thought isn’t it.
Our providers (Bushkill Emergency Corps and others) will all now treat every patient as if they have COVID-19. A scary thought is that some folks may be carriers and not know it, so any of the things mentioned above can spread the virus. Hence, stay home, stop socializing, wear a mask.
Since information is constantly changing, There is something new every day, sometimes we (EMS) receive changes hourly. For our part, we wear our N95 masks, goggles to protect our eyes, gloves to protect our hands and when we can, we use gowns. Our days are filled with constant cleaning, bleaching, disinfecting.
Our trucks are disinfected daily with a “fogger’, sometimes multiple time above and beyond the bleach and disinfectants. Our buildings are “fogged” daily and our providers practice the isolation of themselves and their clothing, making certain they don’t infect their own families.
All we can do is ask that if you were diagnosed or someone in your house has been and you call 911, DO LET THE DISPATCHER KNOW. If you live elsewhere, please don’t think that the mountain air is going to help you recover sooner. Please stay home in your own community. Traveling to here does not help any of us, nor does it “flatten the curve”, it only creates a larger one.
And, after this is all over, let’s not return to the idea that EMS is “just there” and doesn’t need to be supported by our communities. After all, we can see what would happen if no one responded.
Debbie Kulick - Pike and Monroe Life
May 2020 - With their services already in precarious financial situations, the coronavirus pandemic could be the death knell for many EMS agencies in Butler County.
“We were in a crisis before this,” said Jay Grinnell, Harmony EMS president. “COVID-19 is going to be what's going to break the back of a lot of ambulance services.”
Call volumes are down 25 percent to 40 percent across the state, he said. Because ambulance services receive nearly all of their income from payments for service, the drop in call volume directly impacts their bottom line.
Ted Fessides, Cranberry Township EMS chief, estimated the EMS lost about $70,000 this year from its decreased dispatches — nearly two full-time EMTs' annual wages, he added.
Layoffs have begun
These losses already have materialized in layoffs and staffing changes. Cranberry cut the hours of two administrative employees, while Quality EMS, based in Adams Township, laid off five people, mostly transport employees, according to director Erica Corso.
“The call volume just isn't there to have them on staff right now,” she said.
While the layoffs have yet to affect clinical employees — the paramedics and EMTs — that's a future possibility as the lower number of calls means less of a need to run concurrent crews, Corso said.
Quality runs two crews at all hours, but it's possible right now to cover all calls with one.
The future possibilities may be more dire than that. In Cranberry — where Fessides told township supervisors in January the financial outlook already was less than good — the pandemic greatly exacerbated an existing problem.
“If we do nothing and we just do business as usual, with these decreased calls we're going to be gone by July,” Fessides said.
Nonemergency calls nonexistent
Gene Troyan, Butler Ambulance Service's director of operations, said his group has been trying to find exactly why the calls have gone down. Nonemergency calls are virtually nonexistent, Troyan said, but other dispatches have decreased still.
“I think people are maybe thinking, 'Oh, I don't want to go to the hospital, I don't want to go in public,' ” Troyan said.
Fessides said even calls for heart attacks and strokes are down alongside the nonemergency calls. Dispatches to car accidents have shrunk, too, because people are driving less.
“For years, the big joke was, 'Oh man, if people would only use EMS and the ER for what it was designed for, emergencies and everything,' ” he said. “Well, that's what we got. And it turns out it's terrible.”
Even additional sources of income — CPR classes, home childproofing, donations from car seat inspections — have dried up due to social distancing measures.
While that makes up just 5 percent of Cranberry's budget, Fessides said, that's roughly $8,000 a month that won't be there.
Unlike police departments, EMS agencies aren't funded by municipalities, nor do they receive fire tax revenues like fire departments. But they still have to pay for gas, utilities, vehicles and, most importantly, employees.
Nearly all of the ambulance services in the county have applied for small business loans and grants to float them through the crisis.
Grinnell said Harmony EMS received a roughly $14,000 grant, but added that the monthly bills are more than $100,000.
“We did get a little bit of financial assistance from a federal grant that was based on your Medicare reimbursement,” Grinnell said. “In the long run, it keeps the place open for a couple of days.”
Payroll protection program loans, as well as grants through the Small Business Administration, are possibilities too, Fessides said. However, approval and disbursement of these funds can take at least a month.
“Those things take time,” Fessides said. “And unfortunately that's not something we have a lot of.”
Township trying to help
Cranberry Township manager Jerry Andree said the township has been in conversation with CTEMS about how it can help the ambulance service during the crisis, if possible.
“Obviously, the township does not want them to lay employees off because we want them to continue having the same level of service, so we have been having conversations because the supervisors want the township to have the EMS services the community has come to expect,” he said.
Services that had financial reserves before the pandemic can tap into those, Grinnell said. But the financial situation many ambulance services were in before the pandemic prevented them from having any significant savings.
“EMS is bleeding. Everyone ramped up and was all prepared, but we were on the other side of this,” Fessides said. “Nobody saw the bottom dropping out. We thought we'd be overrun with calls.”
Fun fact: 1949--In the midst of the polio epidemic--a disease that placed tens of thousands of children inside iron lungs, and many thousands more around the country quarantined at home--a young San Diego schoolteacher named Eleanor Abbott invented Candy Land, one of the most popular board games of all time. Abbott created the game inside a polio ward, as a patient herself, with the hope of giving the immobilized children around her a momentary sense of freedom and mobility. As a way of further connecting with the kids, Abbott featured on the game board an illustration of a boy with a leg brace. Milton Bradley was quick to buy the game from Abbott. And to this day, Candy Land continues to be popular, more than 65 years after the disease was eradicated. Of course so many of us played this game as kids, but I found the back story fascinating. Who knew ? Makes me wonder ...what will be invented from this pandemic?
In 1874, Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., D.O., created the concept of treating illnesses within the context of the “whole body.” Thus, the philosophy of osteopathic medicine, which views body systems as interrelated and dependent upon one another, was formed.
Debbie Kulick - Pike and Monroe Life
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