Wednesday, March 7, 1979
Medical Center head suggests 1st aid squad takeover possible
by Pam Hersh
“Princeton Medical Center may have to look into the possibility of running or taking over the Princeton First Aid Squad. When you have an emergency, are you going to let that person die, because of the squad’s inability to respond?” said John Kauffman, president of the Medical Center’s Board of Trustees.
Mr. Kauffman’s comment is the result of a situation which had near tragic consequences, because of the First Aid Squad’s daytime manpower shortage.
Last Friday, Mr. Kauffman’s secretary, Princeton resident Helen Grisham, required immediate transport to University of Pennsylvania
Hospital for emergency cardiac treatment. The Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad was unable to fill the request. After several phone calls, and minutes lost, the West Windsor First Aid Squad, Twin W, took Mrs. Grisham to Philadelphia.
“I WOULD welcome help from the Medical Center,” said Captain Edward Obert of the First Aid Squad. “I value the squad’s independence and autonomy, but the most important thing is getting the job done and saving lives. The so-called pride of being independent is an anachronism. I would have more pride is being able to do the job well.”
Both Mr. Kauffman and Mr. Obert said they could not speak ffor all the members of the institutions they respectively represent, but they said everyone would agree something has to be done to improve the squad’s daytime response capability.
“The extremely dangerous daytime, working day, personnel shortage has plagued the squad for several months. Last year, the squad was unable to answer 12 day emergency local transport calls. Fortunately, neighboring squads were able to assist, and none of these persons were critically ill. The next person, however, may not be so lucky,” said Mr. Obert.
ONE OF THE solutions to the lack of daytime volunteers, according to Mr. Obert, would be hiring two paid paramedics, as was done by the Lawrence Township First Aid Squad. Hamilton, Ewing and Trenton also have paid personnel on the staff of their rescue squads.
The Princeton squad does not have the extra funds (about $12,000 per person) to hire the persons. “We have enough money for our operating expenses, but we are struggling with our capital expenses, and certainly, we can’t afford money for paid-staff,” said Mr. Obert.
Neither Princeton Borough nor Princeton Township seems willing to come to the rescue of the squad by means of financial support. The Princeton squad, unlike its neighboring squads, receives no compensation from either Princeton.
For the 1979 fiscal year, West Windsor is receiving $14,000 from the Township Committee, and Plainsboro is getting $15,000 from its municipal body.
Twin W Captain John Henderson said. “West Windsor’s squad is very fortunate to have so much cooperation from the municipality.” Twin W serves a population approximately one third the size of what the Princeton Squad is serving.
BECAUSE OF THE lack of funds, the Princeton squad is trying to convince Princeton businesses to have a more lenient time-off policy for their employees who are also rescue squad volunteers.
“The hospital could be more cooperative in that respect,” said Mr. Obert. “One of our rescue squad people who is particularly well qualified is a nurse at the Medical Center. The problem is that she is not allowed to leave work in order to answer a squad call.”
In response to Mr. Obert’s comment, Mr. Kauffman said the hospital, like the squad, is in the business of saving lives, and taking the nurse away from her job at the hospital may also jeopardize lives.
“I still can’t pinpoint the reason for the dwindling number of volunteers from the Princetons,” said Mr. Obert. The Princeton squad has 35 members, whereas West Windsor has 44. One possible reason, in Mr. Obert’s opinion, is “the times have changed the make-up of Princeton’s population. A large majority of the people are transient and traveling business executives.
“Also, a lot of people living in Princeton work too far from Princeton to be of any use for daytime emergency calls. We have had several university students volunteer their services, but their efforts are very sporadic; during exam times, they can’t help out, and during vacations, they leave.”
MANY PRINCETON residents requiring long distance transport to a hospital are relying upon private ambulance services. A problem with these services is an inability to act on an emergency basis. Mr. Kauffman called a private service for his secretary, but the service told him “the ambulance couldn’t get to the job for a few hours. We couldn’t afford to waste that kind of time,” said Mr. Kauffman.
Also, the expense of using a service can run into hundreds of dollars, which is not covered by a basic Blue Cross hospital insurance policy. “Some group, major medical plans do cover transport expenses, but the standard individual Blue Cross plan will not pay for private transportation,” said a Blue Cross official.
A medical center pediatrician said the babies who need immediate transfer to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia do not have to depend upon the First Aid Squad, because the
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Children’s Hospital intensive care unit has its own transport team, which is called in to conduct the transfer.
ALTHOUGH PRINCETON Township and Princeton Borough are giving no financial aid to the Princeton squad, the governments are working to solve the squad’s financing and staffing problems. The Joint First Aid and Rescue Squad Committee, made up of representatives of the two governing bodies, the squad and the community, was organized several months ago after the squad requested financial assistance from the municipalities.
Princeton Township Committeewoman Kate Litvac, who is the township’s representative to the Joint Rescue Squad Committee, said, “There is no question the squad’s problems present a serious problem for the community. Some sort of cooperation between the hospital and First Aid Squad would be helpful. It would be very difficult for the township to help financially, because this year our budget was only $353 under the cap limit.”
The township has agreed to allow its police department to do the dispatching for the Princeton squad. “We are most appreciative for the township’s cooperation on this matter, but unfortunately, it doesn’t solve our personnel problem.” said Mr. Obert.
“I DON’T THINK the squad would want to lose its volunteer spirit, its independence, which would happen if the squad became dependent upon the municipalities for its financial support,” said Richard Woodbridge, Borough Council’s representative to the Rescue Squad Committee.
Mr. Obert’s reply to Mr. Woodbridge’s comment was, “I told Mr. Woodbridge he could have the squad, independence and all, if the municipality could help the squad do a better job for the Princeton residents. But the governments have to really want to help the squad, because they have no legal commitment to do so.”
No state statute requires a town to have a first aid squad.