Matt Dougherty, Ithaca Times, Sep 29, 2022
Staffing shortages at the Ithaca Police Department are putting increasing pressure on emergency medical services (EMS) in surrounding communities. Trumansburg Mayor Rorden Hart recently told The Ithaca Times that “data shows that delays in EMS response are closely linked to law enforcement staffing.”
According to Mayor Hart, “I'm not commenting on what the city of Ithaca wants to do long term with respect to law enforcement, I'm just commenting on the reality on the ground.”
While the city decides how it wants to move forward with its long term project with relation to reimagining public safety, an issue exists right now at IPD with respect to staffing — and that is having a spillover effect to other agencies.
Mayor Hart says there have been situations over the last few months where Bangs Ambulance service in Ithaca has been delayed in responding to calls because of wait times that are seemingly related to staffing shortages at IPD. Whenever this occurs, EMS from Dryden or Trumansburg have been forced to cover for the delay.
The Trumansburg Ambulance Department specifically covers or has contracts with three surrounding municipalities to provide them with ambulance service — as well as the village. That area the department is contractually obligated to cover is about 112 square miles, but due to mutual aid agreements with the other two counties bordering Trumansburg the department covers an area of more than 400 square miles.
Mayor Hart stresses that the delays being experienced harm public health and safety because EMS is an important part of the local healthcare system. “Being able to render that emergency health care to people at the moment of crisis is supremely important,” said Hart.
According to Mayor Hart, over the last several years the Village of Trumansburg has begun to see its need to offer mutual aid towards the city of Ithaca increase, which hasn’t occurred in the past.
This is happening because when Bangs Ambulance is strained by call volume related to certain types of calls — particularly drug overdoses and violent incidents — paramedics are required to wait for law enforcement officers to arrive before they can enter the scene.
Mayor Hart said, “if there's a drug overdose for instance, the safety of the medical professionals and the paramedics who are responding should be paramount. So they will not enter a scene until they have a police officer or a sheriff's deputy or a state trooper available to escort them into the scene.”
When asked if this policy was mandated by a local law, Hart said, “it’s not a law, it's a best practice of the agency providing the service. It's considered standard operating procedure for medical professionals and I believe it extends into the mental health community and the Social Work community as well.”
He continued saying, “if there's a potential for danger, or harm of any kind to the medical professional, then they have to work to be okay. Because you don't do anyone any good if you send a paramedic into a situation where the person who is there to render medical care themselves becomes hurt,”
When this rule is taken into account with the fact that IPD is operating with at least 14 vacancies it becomes clear why EMS has been experiencing delays. The question is why has IPD been plagued by continuous staffing issues?
According to Mayor Hart, “staffing shortages at IPD existed before the reimagining process,” but he continued saying, “many former officers cite their reason for leaving as the uncertainty surrounding the reimagining public safety process.”
Regardless of whether you support it or not, the reimagining process seems to be having an impact on staffing at IPD. As a result, it's clear that staffing issues are having this follow on effect to EMS, and that is putting increased pressure on EMS in surrounding communities.
Mayor Hart stressed that he “wants to be clear that the reason I'm involved is not to tell the city of Ithaca how to reimagine anything. The reason I'm involved is because it is clearer than what the city is considering is having an impact on their law enforcement capabilities and staffing, which is clearly having a follow on effect to other emergency services.”
He continued saying, “if it wasn't having this follow on effect to EMS and affecting the village, whatever my personal opinions of reimagining might be, there wouldn't be a reason for me to go public about it because the city is obligated to run the city the way their elected officials and their constituents want. It's only because what is transpiring is having this much larger regional effect that I felt compelled to make a statement on it.”
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