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Local Funding of Programs Sparks Debate

February 16th, 2020 by WCBC Radio

A proposal to end or curtail the Allegany County Scholarship Program was a very hot topic this week, with the county commissioners deciding to ask the legislative delegation for a measure which would guarantee that the program would continue.

The local development council, which includes the lawmakers, has been reported as to having voted to give a bigger share of funds to local volunteer fire departments and EMS providers, which has received a chunk of the funding generated by electronic gaming at Rocky Gap.  A member of the LDC has disputed that assertion, though.  (Paragraph amended to include new information.)

How it all washes out remains to be seen, and WCBC has received a letter from Robby May, vice chair of the county's emergency services board, who says volunteers need more financial support so they can continue to insure public safety.

Local officials have been debating via social media, with some saying the published information is not right.

 

Robby May Letter:

My name is Robby May and I currently serve our community as a volunteer paramedic and EMS Captain with the Corriganville Volunteer Fire Company. I’m also the Vice Chair of the Allegany County Emergency Services Board and also teach EMS course for the University of Maryland – Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute. I’ve been a member of the volunteer emergency services in Allegany County for the past 15 years and come from a long family history of volunteer fire and EMS personnel. These are my personal thoughts and do not necessarily represent the opinions of any of the aforementioned organizations I am associated with

In early January, at the public meeting of the Allegany County Commissioners, I spoke on behalf of the EMS Subcommittee of the Emergency Services Board, urging the Commissioners to release much needed funding for the Allegany County Department of Emergency Services. I’m deeply concerned about the safety of the public in our communities when it comes to medical emergencies.

In recent months it has become a multi-day occurrence each week for volunteer stations to be shut down because DES does not have the staff available to staff the stations which they have entered into agreements with. This is due to a plethora of reasons including sick and maternity leave, call offs, disciplinary action, as well as a hemorrhaging of clinicians who are leaving DES to work for other agencies who pay more. For example, a starting paramedic for DES make $20 an hour. If they leave to work locally for Butler Medical Transport, they can start at $25-28 an hour depending on their experience. Soon our starting EMTs will be better off to work at a McDonalds, with the states increase in minimum wage.

The following stations have not been provided with DES staffing (paramedic or EMT) the following number of times since January 1, 2020 , meaning that these communities were without a paramedic, EMT, or both:

·      Corriganville: 4

·      Bowman’s Addition: 1

·      District 16: 3

·      Flintstone 9

·      Mount Savage – 10

Some locations take almost 40 minutes to get to even in an emergency vehicle. For example, a resident north of Ellerslie on Palo Alta Road will have to wait almost an hour for an ambulance to arrive out of LaVale or Frostburg. Flintstone regularly has locations that are 30+ minutes away from their station. Now, the ambulance that will back Flintstone up if they do not have a crew will come out of Bowman’s Addition or Hancock, making some locations almost an hour for an ambulance to arrive. If there is a true emergency, that person cannot wait that long.

Above this, Allegany County Government has signed memorandums with all of the companies which they provide staffing for. These memorandums, legal contracts, are being broken by the County, over and over again because they are not providing the agreed upon staffing.

Why are the lives of citizens in certain parts of the county, which have traditionally higher call volumes, more important than the lives in these areas where stations are being closed? 

            Recently, DES lost a paramedic at one of our stations, whose position is a line-item budget item. However, the County government has refused to allow DES to replace that position, creating yet again, another hole in staffing. What will happen this summer when providers take their scheduled vacations for a week at a time? I can only guess the closing of stations which we are seeing now will be small to what we will see then. 

Recently, the Local Development Council made recommendations on revising the funds that the Rocky Gap funds is distributed to, suggesting a that more money go to fire and EMS while closing out the opportunity scholarships to the local universities. This has caused an uproar in the community, including all three of the county commissioners coming out as opposed to the move. As a high school educator in the community, I understand the importance of education and the vital role that ACM provides to our community. Both FSU and ACM are truly life savers to our community; however, at the current time the immediate “life savers” in the community must take precedence. I am NOT suggesting that our volunteer companies receive any more money from Rocky Gap at this time. The money which they currently receive should remain constant. This reallocated money, should at least in large, be diverted to DES, earmarked to be specifically for funding of staffing. This benefits all volunteer departments in the county, directly or indirectly, but more importantly, it benefits the entire community

As I have watched the public debate on social media over the last week around these Rocky Gap funds, I have been deeply concerned about some of what I have read. One comment said that fire departments and rescue squads just need to stop wasting money and have more fundraisers. I’d encourage the public to really look at just how many fundraisers companies are already having and consider the work that goes into them. I know that I easily spend 10-15 entire weekends per year at my station helping with our fundraisers. DES as a government entity does not have the ability to fundraisers

I think there is also much misinformation in the public about the true cost of ambulance services. Yes, all ambulance services in the county bill. However, just because you bill for patient care, does not mean that you receive money for that patient. Many patients have no insurance, meaning you recuperate none of the costs of that call. If a patient has Medicaid, the government will pay a flat fee of $100 for that call, not matter how much medicine or equipment you used. This hits areas like Cumberland City especially hard because of the high amount of patients with Medicaid or no insurance. In addition, there are also times where no matter how hard we try to save a patient, we are unable to, as in the case of a cardiac arrest. If a patient is declared dead on scene after our treatments have not worked, we cannot bill for that call. Easily, there is over $1000 of disposable equipment and medications that were use on that patient. I manage the ordering of supplies for our department, so I know the costs of medicine and equipment well. Narcan is now almost $80 a piece and the atomizer that allows us to put the medicine in the nose (a plastic device smaller than your thumb) is $10 by itself. Both of these are lifesaving necessities.

 It is no surprise, and we are well aware, that volunteerism has dramatically dropped within our ranks. It’s a nationwide issue that is not unique to our area. On average, we are producing 15-20 new EMTs a year in Allegany County, however, statistics show that almost half of them will no longer be volunteering within 5 years of earning their certification. Because of the ever-decreasing number of volunteers, especially on the EMS side, more and more stations in the county have requested DES to fully or partially staff their stations. Currently, DES is staffing (paramedic and driver) 4 stations and partially staffing (with a paramedic or EMT driver) 5 stations. I know that there are other stations who do not currently have staffing, or have partial staffing, and are now requesting additional staffing.

There are several volunteer EMS organizations that are currently on the verge of collapse, and some are only being kept from collapse due to the county’s assistance with staffing. If they collapse (like Frostburg) the County will be forced to spend significant money taking over the costs of not just staffing, but ambulances, equipment, and buildings. Budgeting in tight fiscal times, which I would argue is the permanent state of our county  budget, is incredibly tough, which means that tough decisions about the things that absolutely matter most and it’s my firm belief that the county must agree human lives must be the most important priority.

            The commissioners are against a tax increase. The commissioners are blocking the hiring of essential DES employees. The commissioners are against taking Rocky Gap money away from the scholarships. The commissioners are against growing the budget of DES.

I call upon all of my brothers and sisters in the fire and EMS system in Allegany County to urge our commissioners to act and put the lives of our citizens first. Write letters to the editor, share your thoughts on social media, and contact your friends 

 I urge the citizens of this county, to recognize the importance of their fire and EMS services and that one day you may very well need those services in a tragic moment of your life and to push our commissioners to make the right decision and adequately fund our DES 

Please note that I am NOT calling for additional funding to my company or any of our volunteer companies. This is not a personal grab for more resources for the volunteer companies (while they may be needed). My FIRST and greatest priority is always the community and people we serve. Therefore, I’m not asking for more money for the company, but for staffing for DES where it can have the greatest impact for all residents of Allegany County and surrounding areas.

This is the lives of our neighbors, your mother, his grandfather, your child, a friend, and countless more…..and currently, a lack of money, and your address, makes some county residents less important than others when they most need it. 

8 Responses to “Local Funding of Programs Sparks Debate”

  1. February 16, 2020 at 8:05 am, Virgil said:

    Providing funds to these necessary organizations is a no brainer. We are talking about saving lives. These volunteers need to be funded.

    Reply

  2. February 16, 2020 at 8:33 am, jim said:

    This is a common misunderstanding. Having money on hand is not necessary to go to college. People think you need much upfront and don’t apply. These locals need to do what 90% of college bound Americans do. Complete a FAFSA and borrow the money like everyone else. Pay it back when you get a degree and a higher paying job. End the scholarship program.

    Reply

  3. February 16, 2020 at 11:53 am, LRH said:

    This is fun to watch. Throw in the idea of funding some veteran programs into the mix and we can have real cat fight between the three sacred cows…….first responders, the chilll-dren, and our vets.

    Reply

  4. February 16, 2020 at 12:01 pm, LRH said:

    or better yet………..how about using the money to offset the “windfall” of money Jake sees when he looks at a windmill? Yea, I DO know it can’t be done.

    Reply

  5. February 16, 2020 at 4:08 pm, Hank said:

    lrh or whatever your name is US Veteran’s always get screwed. If you think it’s a sacred cow as you call it expalin yourself!

    Reply

  6. February 16, 2020 at 7:41 pm, Cheyenne Martin said:

    Does Anyone notice this is the second County Agency reporting FUNDING issues, already, this year..
    The County Shelter was last month! Of course, I’m of the opinion that the shelter’s problem begins internally and funnels out to the Commissioners because they’re not auditing or supervising management there. It doesn’t seem that’s the problem here…I guess, what I’m wondering is if the GRAND COURT OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS has the same priorities & concerns of the community they’ve been elected to serve & are they doing it to the best of their ability, most effectively, etc with the resources they have available?

    Reply

  7. February 16, 2020 at 9:23 pm, Ed Dodrill said:

    Great, just keep throwing a couple hundred to high school grads who want to go to college and then leave the area. Just great! Meanwhile, our Fire/EMS folks are hurting, homeless shelters are hurting, our roads and bridges are a mess, populations is dropping and no businesses are coming in, Rolling Mill is a mess, etc, etc. Just great, throw money at college kids in the meantime. Bad use of the money from the git-go.

    Reply

  8. February 17, 2020 at 2:39 am, John said:

    Sad that the county is still in this situation. Specia taxing districts funds need to be diverted to support those localities emergency services. Additionally,
    better management of emergency response will
    insure first responders are not being sent where they are not needed.

    Reply

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