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Recent Crash Emphasizes Ongoing Issues With EMS Shortage
(Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
The crash, which involved a school bus carrying youth and adults from a community ski club as well as a passenger vehicle, occurred around 12:10 a.m. on Sunday, February 2, on State Route 66 just west of Carroll Lane in Jenks Township, Forest County.
According to Forest County Commissioner Robert J. Snyder, Jr., it was fortunate there weren’t injured passengers on the bus along with the driver of the passenger vehicle.
“They had to wait over 45 minutes for an ambulance from Clarion,” Snyder told exploreClarion.com.
According to police, the driver of the passenger vehicle suffered serious injuries and was transported to Clarion Hospital by Clarion Hospital Ambulance before being transported to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. No injuries were reported among the 20 bus passengers.
“Had that accident involved injuries to the people on the bus, and the first ambulance was 45 minutes out, it could have been a pretty bad situation.”
Snyder noted that this is not an issue that is unique to our region.
“This is a nationwide issue. Our County Commissioner’s Association has a task force trying to come up with solutions because the system is failing.”
Snyder is far from the only one concerned.
“We’re having the same struggle as every other county,” Jeff Smathers, Director of Public Safety for Clarion County said.
“It’s not only the reduced number of EMS personnel but also the shifts they can work. There are times we have to run stations to cover other areas. For instance, if Station Three in Marienville is out on a call, that leaves that area open, so we may be forced to run another unit from Clarion Hospital up there, or even one from Shippenville or Knox or whatever the case may be. We can run into that at every station. We don’t have the staff for multiple calls.”
Tim Dunkle, Public Safety Director for Venango County, noted it’s a problem everywhere.
“There’s a shortage of EMTs and local volunteers. I don’t know why. It just seems like nobody is interested or able to volunteer their time anymore,” Dunkle said.
Dunkle noted that volunteering can be difficult in our current environment.
“EMT class is time-consuming, and it takes I think about six months to do it. A lot of people are working, and their spouses are working, too, and their kids are in activities, and they just don’t have the time.
“I think that’s one of the biggest issues, just a lack of people willing to take the time and fill in the gaps needed in the county. And, all of the counties have this issue.”
It isn’t an issue that is particularly new to our region, either.
In 2017, the issue of the fees for several local municipalities, including Reno, and Cornplanter, for Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance services from Oil City, was a topic of discussion at several council meetings.
The municipalities balked at the increase, but the council cited concerns about being shorted, and in effect subsidizing outside organizations, ambulance services, and fire departments.
The issue came forward again more recently, at the October 16, 2019 meeting of the Clarion-Limestone School Board, where concern was voiced over the lack of an ambulance on-site at a football game due to the shortage of available EMTs and ambulances.
However, solutions to the myriad of problems involved have not been forthcoming.
“It’s going to take effort at the local, state, and federal level to get this problem fixed,” Commissioner Snyder said.
He noted that Clarion Hospital has invested a great deal of money into their program to get more manpower to stations in our region, but it still isn’t enough.
“There is still a lot of deficiency. Some of it is because of trips paid for by medical assistance, which doesn’t cover even have of the cost of the trip. Some of this needs to be legislated on a state or federal level.”
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