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Struthers buys ambulance as stopgap

STRUTHERS — The city recently bought a used ambulance to help offset long response times to calls, though some of the pieces still are falling into place.

“Most importantly, we want to get the patient to the hospital as quickly as we can,” Bob Benson, the city’s safety service director, said.

That goal, however, has proved daunting at times, largely because of a countywide shortage of emergency medical personnel. In addition, more volunteer emergency medical technicians and paramedics are needed to staff the vehicle consistently — and provide critical services throughout Mahoning County — Benson explained last week.

Compounding the challenge is that early last summer, Lane LifeTrans, which has a contract with Boardman, curtailed its service to Struthers, Hubbard, Coitsville, Lowellville and Campbell. An additional problem has been a decrease in the number of private ambulance companies, officials have stressed.

The used ambulance would be used “as a last resort,” when another ambulance is unavailable. The purchase was necessary also because MedStar Ambulance Inc. has one vehicle to serve Struthers and Campbell, Benson added.

Joseph Lane, Lane LifeTrans

Paramedics’ president and chief executive officer, explained in a letter in May that stress from two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with a tight labor market, made it impossible for the company to maintain a level of staffing adequate to continue serving those areas.

TIME IS ESSENTIAL

The vehicle, which is fully equipped, was purchased about four months ago to help reduce the amount of time it takes emergency responders to reach the scene of a call, which has been as high as 30 minutes — a situation Benson called “unacceptable in our opinion.”

“We’re trying to build a solid service staff,” he said, adding that such a shortage of personnel exists also because some EMTs are retiring.

The city has seven or eight EMTs and paramedics signed up to drive the vehicle to calls, with a goal of reaching about 30 personnel. A person has to be at least a basic level EMT to respond to calls, Benson continued.

Cost of the purchase was about $50,000 — $25,000 for the vehicle and the rest for a gurney, defibrillators and other essential equipment, he noted.

Since its addition to the city’s fleet, the ambulance has responded to about 20 calls, though it hasn’t been used so far to provide mutual aid to neighboring communities. Nevertheless, it likely will eventually be used for that function, fire Chief Mike Agnone noted.

If a large influx of calls comes in, every effort will be made to have enough personnel to respond to them. If necessary, the Western Reserve Joint Fire District (in Poland) or other nearby department will be contacted to assist, Agnone noted.

“We’re all trying to help each other out,” the chief said, adding that his department is sometimes overwhelmed because of the EMS crisis.

STAFFING SHORTAGES

Agnone encouraged anyone who is an EMT or paramedic and interested in operating the city’s used ambulance to call the fire department at 330-755-2122.

In an effort to address the staffing shortages, Boardman Township trustees sent a letter in late April to Mahoning County commissioners asking them to begin talks with city, village and township governments in the county on the possibility of a countywide ambulance service. The correspondence cited concerns from various fire chiefs about emergency medical dispatching, as well as the Canfield-based Cardinal Joint Fire District seeking additional tax funding in the May 3 primary election to hire more medical personnel.

“Seeing all these issues, we believe (emergency medical services) would best be addressed regionally,” the letter stated. “It is our hope that working together, we could reach out to other communities and private companies to discuss and develop a countywide strategy that helps every community receive quality and cost-effective (ambulance) service.”

news@vindy.com

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