Union County, NJ – A new Union County emergency medical service is already running at its anticipated call volume since it began operating on June 1. The new service is a one-year pilot project initiated by the Freeholder Board. The project was developed in response to mayors and other local officials who expressed an overwhelming need for additional EMS service in Union County.
“When we asked local governments how the County could help them provide vital services more efficiently, they said EMS was a top priority,” said Freeholder Chairman Deborah Scanlon. “We communicated closely with local officials so they knew exactly when County EMS was ready to roll, and it’s gratifying to see the program get off to such a fast start.”
The Countywide EMS pilot project is designed to assist municipalities when local crews are unavailable. It consists of one ambulance and crew based at the county’s Public Safety Building in Westfield. The service will operate from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and will respond to any municipality in Union County.
“Hospital closings and budget cuts have strained local resources, resulting in longer response times. This situation cannot be sustained without putting the health and safety of Union County residents at risk,” said Freeholder Linda Carter. “We hope that the County EMS pilot project leads to an effective long term solution.”
The pilot project was developed with input from local governments. Based on their needs, Union County public safety officials anticipated that the service would respond to about 4-5 calls daily after an initial startup period of several weeks. The program has already approached that mark. In its first five days of operation, County EMS responded to a total of 18 calls for service by nine municipalities: Clark, Cranford, Elizabeth, Fanwood, Linden, Plainfield, Scotch Plains, Springfield, and Union. As of Thursday June 9, there were 29 calls and an additional municipality, Hillside, used the service.
The need for a countywide backup EMS system has become clear over the past several years. In the past, local dispatchers could rely on other municipalities for mutual aid. As municipal resources have dwindled, this system has frayed. Dispatchers are finding it more difficult to send their crews out of town when their own residents may be in need.
Startup expenses for the pilot project have been kept to a minimum. The Rahway Emergency Squad donated two ambulances, and in exchange Union County bought and installed communications equipment for the squad’s new ambulance. The total cost to the County was only $2,500 compared to approximately $140,000 for a new ambulance. The second ambulance is needed as a backup when the first needs repair or maintenance.
In addition to answering immediate emergency calls, Countywide EMS is also available as a standby precaution at fires and public events. When the pilot concludes, the program will be evaluated for overall effectiveness. Other County departments can use the ambulances if the program does not continue.
The total estimated cost of the one year pilot is $212,980 including staffing and one-time startup expenses. The actual cost is expected to be far lower, since insurance companies will be billed for services when applicable.