Town talks about emergency services

Questions raised about structure of ambulance system in Bethlehem

— It’s clear the quality and costs of Bethlehem’s emergency services is on the mind of town leaders, but what’s less certain is what can be done to improve matters.

Members of the town’s Transitional Committee, formed by new Bethlehem Supervisor John Clarkson, took up police and public safety matters at a Tuesday Jan. 17, meeting. After Emergency Service Coordinator Jack Brennan explained the number of fire and ambulance districts within the town, members of the Transitional Committee wondered if residents were getting the same level of care during emergency situations.

Brennan said that question had been raised in the past.

“The Bethlehem Ambulance District was born by the town to deal with any issues of the ambulance corps and the county sheriff within the town,” he said. “To answer your question, the level of care was not equal or seemed to be not equal, with basic life services being offered by Bethlehem Ambulance.”

Brennan explained to the committee that of the town’s four emergency medical services providers, only two provide advanced services with trained paramedics: the Albany County Sheriff’s Office and the Delmar Volunteer Ambulance Service. The Bethlehem Volunteer Ambulance Service and the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad provide only basic medical services, which includes transportation.

The town contracts with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office for their services at a cost of nearly $760,000 a year. All other providers have their own tax levies and budgets, with the difference made up by either insurers or the persons in need of medical attention.

“It was seen that the level of care might be a bit better in Delmar than in the outer areas,” Brennan said.

Committee members asked what determined the districts for both fire and emergency medical services and Brennan said tradition has been the main deciding factor.

Members also wondered if the fiscal situation of each district contributed to the inequality of services, and Brennan said that’s what the District Board of Ambulance Commissioners is attempting to figure out.

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