Worcester EMS Service Impacted By Out-Of-State Calls

Worcester EMS Service Impacted By Out-Of-State Calls
When ambulances are not available in southern Sussex County, crews from the Bishopville Volunteer Fire Dept. are often asked to respond.

SNOW HILL– Worcester County will be reaching out to neighboring jurisdictions to share concerns about EMS coverage.

The Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously this week to write to officials in Sussex County, Somerset County and Accomack County regarding ambulance service. The move comes after they were made aware that Worcester County emergency responders are answering calls in those jurisdictions, leaving gaps in Worcester County’s coverage.

“We need to worry about the citizens of Worcester County and making sure they have an ambulance there in the appropriate amount of time to handle any emergencies they may have,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.

Mitrecic, chairman of the county’s fire funding work group, told the commissioners this week that the ongoing meetings between county officials and fire company representatives had been very informative. They’ve also identified some deficiencies. Mitrecic said the fact that Worcester County EMS providers responded to calls in Sussex County, Accomack County and Somerset County meant there were fewer crews on hand in Worcester. Mitrecic referenced the way the Town of Ocean City had approached Worcester County seeking funds to support the EMS service the resort provided to West Ocean City. He said Worcester County needed to tell Sussex County the same thing the Town of Ocean City had told Worcester County.

“That either they come up with the money it costs us to run those areas or we stop running them,” Mitrecic said. “We can no longer continue to allow the cost of running these other areas affect the Worcester County taxpayers. We keep giving more and more money to these emergency medical companies and we’re not getting anything out of Sussex.”

Mitrecic said fire company representatives had made it clear the emergency response system was already strained.

“If there’s one thing that we’ve heard…we’re one call away from a complete total meltdown,” he said. “That’s been stressed to us.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino agreed.

“If our apparatus is in another county…we’re hard up to find service,” he said.

Mitrecic said fire officials had pointed to various instances when companies in Worcester municipalities had to cover for each other when they were on calls out of the county. He said in one case, Showell was the first due responder in Snow Hill because Pocomoke crews were on a long run and Snow Hill EMS was responding to a call in Pocomoke.

“I don’t think this happens often but there was an instance last year where that was one of the things that actually happened,” Mitrecic said.

He added that in Sussex County, the county had chase cars rather than ambulances. According to Mitrecic if none of the local Sussex volunteer companies had an ambulance available, EMS from the fire company in Bishopville responded when a patient needed transport.

“The same thing happens in Virginia and Somerset also,” he said.

Bertino noted there was even more development underway in southern Sussex County that was likely to further impact the situation.

“If we tell Sussex, ‘hey we can no longer run into your area unless you want to subsidize our EMS division, I think that’s where we need to go,” Mitrecic said.

When asked if Showell also felt the impact, Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young said the issue primarily affected Bishopville though the impact did reach other companies. He said that in 2020, Bishopville was requested to respond to Sussex County 21 times while there were no records of a Delaware company responding into Bishopville’s “first due” area. In 2021, Bishopville was asked to respond to Sussex 30 times while there were two instances of a Delaware company responding to Bishopville. Last year, Bishopville was asked to help in Sussex County 47 times while Sussex companies came into Bishopville just three times.

“This is an unsustainable trend that’s pulling critical units out of Worcester County to basically clean up the lack of response in our neighboring counties,” Young said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to contact the three neighboring counties to initiate a discussion regarding EMS response. Bertino thanked Mitrecic and Commissioners Jim Bunting and Ted Elder for their efforts on the work group.

“It has not been easy and I don’t think it’s going to get any easier as we go forward,” he said.

Mitrecic said the group was making progress though much of its discussions up until this point have addressed immediate needs rather than long-term funding solutions.

“As chairman of the committee, if nothing else this committee has brought a tremendous amount of stuff to light over the last year and half,” he said.

He said the group’s discussions had identified deficiencies in the system currently as well as issues—like the response to neighboring counties—that could potentially be addressed.

“Moving forward I think things look good,” Mitrecic said. “We’re still a long way away from a budget impact for this year but hopefully we can look at something moving forward.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.