YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A discussion of safety in the city of Youngstown focused on the ambulance service residents receive and what the future holds.

The second meeting of a three-part city safety series took place Wednesday night at the Greater Friendship Baptist Church. The focus was ambulance response times and what the city can do to help the problem.

“As citizens we’re very concerned about the response time of the ambulance service and the cost of having the ambulance service,” said Josie Lyon, president of the 7th Ward Citizens Coalition.

But, Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Finley says the problem doesn’t solely lie with American Medical Response (AMR) ambulance service, which services the city. Instead, it’s an issue of not having enough hospitals in the city. Finley says that at one point the city had four hospitals, and now there’s only one.

With only one hospital, ambulances often get held up at the hospital for hours waiting for a bed to open up for their patients.

“People think, ‘You’re at the hospital, dump the patient and leave,’ absolutely not. Without a bed and without someone to give a report to, you [have to] hold onto that patient. And at times, sometimes there literally are no beds,” Finley said.

Finley also pointed out that not all ambulance calls are considered emergencies, and that may cause response times to take longer for some people.

“You won’t believe it, but the thing you used to call an ambulance for and get them screaming across town, it’s not an emergency,” he said.

Finley encouraged people to visit their doctor for more minor issues and things that don’t necessarily require a trip to the emergency room, to help ease the load in hospitals as well as freeing up ambulances.

Currently, over 50% of AMR’s medical calls go to patients with Medicare or Medicaid, meaning the ambulance company does not get fully reimbursed for its calls. Because of this, Finley says AMR has asked the city for a $625,000 subsidy, in order to make up the difference. 

But, First Ward City Councilman Julius Oliver says AMR is merely trying to extort the city now that the city has ARP funds, and says the company does not truly value the residents it serves.

“I don’t feel like AMR sees Youngstown citizens in a light that is like, ‘We got to get to these people, we got to go save them, we got to do this,’ that’s just my opinion,” Oliver said.

Still, Oliver says when the time comes he’s willing to vote yes on the subsidy if he has to.

“But if there’s an alternative, I want the alternative and with this $700,000 I don’t just want the same service, I want better service. Give me another truck, give me more EMS workers, something,” he said.

AMR was invited to attend the discussion, however they declined the invitation. First News also reached out to AMR after the meeting and the company sent us the following statements Thursday.

“Our response times align with or are better than industry standards,” AMR wrote.

In response to the comment that AMR does not value Youngstown residents, it went on to say:

“AMR has made clear its commitment to the citizens of Youngstown. Despite the unfavorable and worsening financial conditions our industry has experienced for several years, we have raised wages to recruit and retain the best EMS clinicians while investing in new ambulances and state-of-the-art equipment like power stretchers. Our EMTs, paramedics and support staff live in and have cared for the residents of Youngstown for more than 30 years. We are a part of the fabric of the community, and that’s why we are using our Earn While You Learn programs to focus on hiring Youngstown residents.

AMR also sent a response to the comment made that the company is extorting the city for ARP funds.

“AMR has been working with the city toward a subsidy for more than three years. That process
began long before any ARPA funds were provided to any U.S. cities. AMR is the only company
that has responded to the last two requests for proposals issued by the city, including the
current one and another from five years ago, which further demonstrates that the conditions
are financially unfavorable and, ultimately, unsustainable without a subsidy.”

The third meeting of the series is scheduled to take place at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Greater Friendship Baptist Church. It is open to the public to attend.