by Robert Kimmel –
When the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps (TVAC) was created in 1967 its members reflected its name; they were all volunteers. Today, that is not the case. The availability of volunteers able to meet the corps’ needs has fallen to the point where paid Emergency Medical Technicians are called upon for many ambulance runs.
“We are a volunteer organization and years ago we were 100 percent volunteers; however, times have changed, and it has been more difficult to get volunteers,” said TVAC Captain Alaric Young.
“We still have a need to provide service 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Young stressed. “In order to fill the need, we hire EMTs, and we pay them to fill the gaps. Recently the situation has gotten worse, and we are hiring more and more. Last year we answered 1,100 calls, and the number increases every year.”
On each of those calls, there must be an EMT, a Certified Medical Technician, with the required training.
“We are a mix of volunteers and paid people,” Young said. He noted that the regular 12-hour shifts are hardest to staff with volunteers during weekdays “when most of our volunteers are at work. Sometimes at those times, they are entirely paid people.”
While TVAC has as many as 40 volunteers on its roster, all don’t put in equal time, Young said. “In today’s world, people are finding it harder to volunteer… everybody in the family works, and there’s just not as much free time,” he said.
A lack of volunteers has created heavy financial burdens for TVAC. Young used the term “dire” in describing the situation. “At one time we survived on donations; however, our donation pool hasn’t increased very much at all,” explained Young, who has been with TVAC for 25 years. “We are operating at a deficit, and no organization can continue to do that.”
Ambulances, bare of medical equipment, cost about $160,000. TVAC was fortunate to have received a grant from the New York Thruway Authority community benefit funding relating to the Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge construction for one of its two ambulances.
Young stressed the need to reduce expenses, “and one of those ways is to find a way to attract more volunteers,” he stated. TVAC had to institute another means of meeting its financial needs some years ago – by accepting health insurance payments, Medicaid and Medicare payments when possible from insured patients.
Under this system, TVAC uses a third-party billing company to charge a patient’s insurance company for the ambulance fees. Many insurance policies have money set aside for this.
“We bill about $600 for an ambulance call,” Young said. “Insurance won’t pay that entire amount,” he related. “Right in the moment, it’s keeping us going… we’re trying not to actually bill people for the remainder of it,” said Young. “We don’t want people not to call the ambulance because they’re worried about the money.”
While TVAC is an independent unit not under the auspices of the village, its financial plight has come to the attention of Mayor Drew Fixell and Administrator Richard Slingerland, as well as the Board of Trustees.
“We’ve spoken with representatives of the ambulance corps in regard to their having trouble getting enough volunteers to staff their shifts,” Slingerland said. He noted that Fixell has been in direct contact with Phelps Hospital President and CEO Dan Blum to seek possible plans proposed by the hospital, “ for the long term ambulance emergency needs of the community.”
Fixell credited Blum with “coming up with the idea of exploring solutions. He is very interested in helping to figure a way out of the problem.” The discussions have been very preliminary.
Blum characterized the TVAC as a “very good organization, doing an excellent job with great people volunteering there.” He speaks from experience, as he continues to ride as a volunteer with the Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
Some type of collaboration might be possible, according to Blum. He noted that a “partnership model helped Mt. Pleasant maintain its ambulance service. Working collaboratively with members of the Tarrytown Corps and municipal officials, perhaps, could result in a more sustainable model that leverages their current assets and current workforce,” Blum stated. “We have a track record of success collaborating with local communities.” Blum also acknowledged that merging of different communities’ volunteer corps “possibly could be beneficial to maintain the critically involved services.”
TVAC and the voluntary ambulance services of neighboring Sleepy Hollow and Irvington service each other’s ambulance calls when urgency requires it, generally when their own ambulances are on calls. Those two villages are also seeking more volunteers to support their operations. They also have paid EMT on their staffs.
Contact TVAC to volunteer, or for more information visit: http://www.tarrytownvac.org/.
Joe Rickles contributed to this story.