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Pandemic is straining ambulance providers

United New York Ambulance Network Facebook
AmCare Ambulance operates out of the city of Rome.

The federal government is directing more than $1 billion worth of COVID relief funding passed earlier this year to offset losses incurred by ambulance providers. It's welcome news in New York.

"Emergency medical service providers across the U.S. have been struggling to stay afloat as the COVID-19 health crisis has raged on. Nowhere is that more true than here in New York, one of the hardest-hit states during the pandemic," said Jeff Endler, a spokesperson for the United New York Ambulance Network. 

Lon Fricano, director of operations at TLC Emergency Medical Services that covers Auburn and Onondaga and Cortland counties, said every year in this business is tough, but COVID has doubled down on difficulties they face. Expenses for things like personal protective equipment and overtime hours are way up, so too is the amount of Medicare and Medicaid calls, which Fricano said ambulance providers are reimbursed for at a rate that is less than what it takes to treat those patients.

Adding to these financial strains is that ambulances have been treating and releasing patients at their homes where possible to alleviate the traffic at hospitals. 

"We have this protocol in New York to treat people in place," Fricano said. "So, if we come to your house and I stand in the door and ask you what’s wrong, what are your symptoms, and we determine that you are likely or definitely a COVID-positive person, unless there is a pressing need for you to go to the hospital, we’re going to try to get you to treat in place: call your doctor, get some over-the-counter medications, and stay home so you don’t bring that disease into the hospital."

The trouble is Fricano said they aren't reimbursed for that treatment at all. In this industry, Fricano said you generally are not compensated unless a patient has been transported to the hospital. 

"The level of stress people are under is enormous and yet these folks show up for work every day and they walk into the valley of death, if you will, and face the consequences of taking care of very sick people and we wish we could compensate them better for their work," Fricano said. 

The extra $24.5 billion that the Department of Health and Human Services is making available comes from the Provider Relief Fund, $1.48 billion of which is targeted for ambulance providers. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.