CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — It's an ambulance service where leadership needs active help from the village government, and volunteers can't be retained. That's how members of a task force described the Croton Volunteer EMS at a Village Board work session Monday evening.
Since February 2008, 55 volunteers have quit the Croton EMS. Five volunteers continue to respond to 100 or more of the service's 650 annual calls. The Croton Fire Department responds to about 140 calls annually.
Croton EMS has not spent a $16,500 recruitment and retention stipend it received from the Village Board in September 2011, said Dick Nagle, director of emergency management for the village.
"That's a major problem that's not being addressed well by the Croton EMS — recruitment and retention," said Nagle. "Croton EMS does not do a good job of asking people why they left. They do not do it. Everything is hearsay."
Problems with the village ambulance service came to light 16 months ago, when members and residents became concerned with the increasingly long response times by the Croton EMS and its heavy reliance on ambulance services from neighboring towns, known as "mutual aid."
"I think there are some very basic organizational things that aren't being attended that could help," said Rose Raffa, a nurse practitioner and task force member. She described volunteers as "starving for leadership."
After recouping costs from private insurance companies, Croton Village residents pay about $192 per call with one paid EMT on staff to supplement the ranks of volunteers. This has improved response times, said Nagle, but average response times continued to range from seven to 11 minutes for the district's 3-mile radius.
Adding another paid EMT would double the costs to about $400 to taxpayers every time the ambulance leaves the Harmon Firehouse and make the service a de facto paid department, said Nagle.
"Something has to be done," he said, calling the organization "fragile." The task force recommended "the village to take a more active part in running the ambulance service through the village manager." Nagle said, "That's going to be attractive to new people, that can retain people, which this organization can't do right now."
The situation needs more analysis, Mayor Leo Wiegman said Wednesday. "We obviously are taking this pretty seriously, and I think within the next four to five weeks we'll have worked out with more clarity what additional oversight will be, it's both oversight and guidance." The village board has the legal authority to dissolve the organization or to hire another paid EMT, according to Nagle.
Looking at a list of people who had quit since February 2008, Village Trustee Greg Schmidt said he found it "disconcerting."
"What I see in this list of names is people I think were very committed at Day 1," Schmidt said.
Gary Diggs, captain of the Croton EMS, said he was not opposed to the village board or manager taking a more active role in the organization. "We have problems and we're trying to resolve some of these issues," said Diggs.