On Tuesday evening, Dec. 15, the Candor town board held a hastily convened special meeting at the Candor Ambulance building. Candor Town Supervisor Bill Strosahl, Councilpersons Patti Reichert, George Williams, Jim Douglas, Town Clerk Connie Kulz, and Matt Crowe joined the Candor EMS board and members of the squad. Seats were spaced six feet apart, and everyone wore a mask.
Discussion focused on how best to sustainably fund Candor Emergency Squad through the coming year and beyond. One month earlier, squad captain Kelly Starkweather took the floor at the town board meeting to request funding to the tune of $200,000. The request came too late to incorporate it into the town’s 2021 budget, but the need for financial help remains.
Candor Emergency Squad has served the Candor community as a volunteer ambulance squad for the past 58 years. They often respond to as many as 600 calls a year. But over the past several years, older members retired and fewer volunteers joined to fill the ranks. So about five years ago, the squad hired, and paid, a medic to cover weekends.
The Coronavirus pandemic presented unprecedented challenges. Older squad members and those with underlying health risks were advised by their doctors to take a medical leave until there was a vaccine available. The remaining active members could not respond to all of the emergency calls, leaving neighboring towns to fill in when they could. As a result, some Candor citizens ended up waiting an hour or more for an ambulance.
That was unacceptable, said Starkweather. To alleviate the situation, Candor EMS hired additional medics and drivers. While this allows them to respond to the needs of the community, it places additional financial pressure on a squad funded primarily through donations and billing for ambulance service.
Those donations and insurance reimbursements were enough for a volunteer squad, Starkweather told the town board. But the reality is that Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for ambulance cover only a fraction of the actual costs.
“The bottom line is to continue to provide service for the community,” said EMS board chairman Mark Brown. That takes money. Brown and Starkweather praised the generosity of the Candor community. In addition to bake sales and barbecues, the December mailer that went out to the town usually generates the most donations to the squad. But given the recent need to pay responders, fundraising will not be enough to cover basic expenses, said Brown.
Town board members and squad members brainstormed ideas, raising more questions than answers. Should the town create a district? Could they levy a per-house fee? What do other towns do? What is fair and equitable?
Daniel Cofone, a critical care medic, currently works for Campville and Candor squads. He shared some of his thoughts on being a volunteer EMT with the town board. “I had pride and honor serving my community,” he said. But people don’t understand the thousands of hours volunteers put in to respond to calls and do the medical training. On top of that, they often face danger on calls.
“It takes three hours to respond to a call,” he said. “Then there’s paperwork that takes a lot of time. Time they are not spending with their families. And then they have jobs. How do they do it all?”
With the town budget for 2021 already set and voted on, there is not much the town can offer. But everyone agreed that Candor EMS provides a vital service to the community. Next steps include holding a public meeting.
“We need to let people know more about what goes into answering calls,” said Kelly Starkweather.
“And the town board has to let them know what it will cost,” added Patti Reichert.
Look for an announcement about a public meeting sometime in early 2021.