Effects of national paramedic shortage felt in Valley as ambulance need increases

Local News

Safety officials say this week's issues with ambulance response times are part of a much bigger problem

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A local ambulance company is adding to its fleet after being unable to respond to emergencies recently. But, problems with response times and availability aren’t just limited to the Valley.

Firefighters in Poland started running their own ambulance a year ago, looking to fill in when American Medical Response didn’t have crews available.

“We thought would be three or four times a month. We’re transporting, on average, once a day,” said Chief Chip Comstock, Western Reserve Fire District.

Since then, the department has seen about 700 runs and plans to add a second ambulance.

“We have to fill that void, and a lot of other communities who aren’t prepared to do that are gonna have issues,” Comstock said.

Comstock said the nation is facing a worsening shortage of paramedics.

The issue came to a head locally this week when AMR couldn’t respond to a water rescue near McKelvey Lake.

Comstock blames at least part of the problem on cuts to Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.

“It’s hard for, whether it’s private or public entities to make money. It’s hard to pay paramedics for the services they provide,” Comstock said.

This week, AMR executives agreed to add two more ambulances to the local fleet that covers Youngstown, Poland and Lowellville.

“They’re very cognizant of our concerns and our problem. I think they’re trying to work to alleviate that problem but it’s not easy,” said Youngstown City Law Director Atty. Jeff Limbian.

But some communities are moving away from private companies. The Cardinal Joint District in Canfield started its own service two years ago, adding brand new ambulances. Since then, the department has had almost 1,600 runs with them.

“Communities have to decide what level of service they want. For increased level of service, they have to be willing to pay for it. It doesn’t come free,” Comstock said.

Although AMR executives have not returned our calls, the city’s law director is calling the additional crews a step in the right direction.

“We hope that bringing light to this circumstance brings even more focus and more relief,” Limbian said.

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