BRADFORD COUNTY, Pa. (WETM) – A new report on the status of Emergency Services in Bradford County has found that they are “stretched thin at best” and several, especially volunteer agencies are “near collapse”.
Bradford County Public Safety announced that the study of its EMS resources that was commissioned in late 2021 has been finished and found several issues that aren’t unique to just the Northern Tier.
The study was done by Fitch & Associates, LLC, which observed EMS agencies throughout 2022 and conducted interviews and meetings with staff. The company also collected data about EMS calls, but not all the agencies responded to FITCH quickly, causing a delay in the results.
First, the numbers.
According to the report, the 1,151-square-mile Bradford County has six in-county agencies, five out-of-county agencies, and two fire department-based Quick Response Units providing 911 services. The county is also even more sparse than the Commonwealth’s definition of “rural”, with only 52 people per square mile, on average.
The report also highlighted that while Route 6 and Route 220 cut through the county in all four directions, accessing other parts off of those main roads is very difficult because of the rugged, Allegheny Plateau terrain.
What did the report find?
Overall, the findings of the report were grim. It said that many EMS staff work for multiple departments to maintain themselves financially and to make sure ambulances are staffed.
“Bradford County EMS agencies are stretched thin at best and as volunteers leave the system, there is an immediate concern that many agencies are not able to provide basic emergency response to their communities,” the study said.
On average, because the area is so rural, the response time to emergency calls is 27 minutes, above the 20-minute expectation for rural communities, according to the study. It also found that should ambulances be on a long-distance call or in transport while another call comes in, there is currently no plan to move other EMS units up for a quick response.
Volunteer agencies are even more stretched thin, the report found, with many “on the brink of collapsing. With the increased call volume, decrease in volunteerism, the increased education requirements, increased time commitment, and lack of funding, the volunteer EMS agencies are struggling to maintain staff,” the report said.
And of course, there’s the money problem. The study found that EMS agencies across the board in Bradford County have a difficult time finding funding, and most rely on service fees, grants and donations, not direct funding from local governments.
“Several of the agencies stated that the loss of one or two members could cause their agencies to falter,” the study read.
Lack of ability to train new recruits was another significant finding, especially with few educational institutions or financial incentives.
What can be done to fix the situation?
The report said Bradford County as a whole would benefit from starting a countywide “entity and/or individual” responsible for overseeing the county’s EMS agencies. The county could also greatly benefit from having a countywide funding plan, “for future sustainability.”
Another option the report presented was establishing an EMS Authority that would allow all agencies to group together for purchasing contracts while still getting local support. The study said this option would tackle the problems from a system level, not just individually.
Yet another route could be a Single Provide System that also groups the EMS response of Bradford County and “eliminates redundant expenditures.” The study said EMS services could be contracted with a single organization or provided by the county itself.
The entire assessment can be seen below: