The Princeton Packet
20 December, 1985
Squads: Volunteer paramedics head for paid positions
By Marjorie Snyder
The impact of a new paramedics program in Mercer County may not be known for some time, but some local rescue squad members say they have already lost a number of volunteers.
But officials of the Trenton hospital Which runs the program defend the new procedure, saying it will provide better emergency care coverage throughout the county.
A countywide program using full-time paid paramedics, based in three different regions, officially began Thursday. Mobile intensive care units — called “lifemobiles” — are stationed 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Princeton, Hamilton and at Helene Fuld Medical Center in Trenton. The MICU rigs are ambulances with special life-saving equipment.
For about 10 years, local squads in Mercer County had operated with volunteer paramedics and emergency medical technicians. But the state Department of Health recently required the county to come up with a plan that provides full-time, paid paramedics on duty, similar to other counties in the state.
However, some local rescue squads are concerned they are losing members to hospitals that pay higher salaries —and that the public is confused about who will answer emergency calls.
“A lot of people are under the impression that rescue squads have disappeared,” said Mark Freda, president of the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad.
When a person calls for help in an emergency, local squads will still respond, according to Mr. Freda. The difference now is that county life-mobiles will be dispatched simultaneously to provide extra coverage, he said.
All local rescue squads have until Jan 15. to sign a contract with Helene Fuld agreeing to participate in a countywide paramedics program, according to Al Maghazehe, acting chief operator at Helene Fuld. If squads do not sign the agreement, they will only be able to perform basic first aid, he said.
The ability of local squads to provide advanced lifesaving — such as distributing medication — might be further limited due to a lack of people to do the job.
A state regulation requires two para-medics to ride aboard MICU rigs. Local rescue squads that do not have two paramedics available must wait for the county unit for patients requiring advanced life support.
The Princeton squad has lost three paramedics this year to the Helene Fuld program,_ according to Mr. Freda, a borough councilman-elect.
Squad Captain Mary Ann Henderson and fellow paramedic Joseph Derman still serve as volunteers on the Prince-ton squad, when not working full time for Helene Fuld, the squad president said. But William Duffy left the Prince-ton squad and is no longer a member, according to Mr. Freda. As a result, there are no paramedics on duty during the day from the Princeton squad, unless both Mrs. Henderson and Mr. Derman are available, he said.
Long hours for paramedic training — 600 each year — has led some people to choose a paid position, M. Freda said.
“I’m the only one left here,” said Amy Sweeney, captain of the Lawrence First Aid Squad.
As a Lawrence Township employee Ms. Sweeney receives $17,000 a year plus benefits. Yet another Lawrence squad member went to Middlesex General Hospital in New Brunswick, to earn a higher salary, she said. At Helene Fuld, paramedics earn roughly $19,000, according to Mr. Maghazehe.
Dr. L. Barry Ultan, director of the. Mobile Intensive Care Unit at Helene Fuld. said performing paramedic treatment is becoming a “profession.”
“There aren’t too many volunteer physicians; there aren’t too many volunteer nurses.” said Dr. Ultan, chief of cardiology at the Trenton hospital.
Yet Ms. Sweeney said the issue involves more than just dollars an cents. The health and safety of local residents could be jeopardized if towns cannot afford to compete with hospitals which pay paramedics large salaries, she said.
Helene Fuld emergency rigs alleged-ly respond to more calls outside Trenton to “beef up statistics” to show the state, Ms. Sweeney said. As a result, the Lawrence squad and other local units must respond to more Trenton calls, she said.
“I don’t know how long we all are going to stand for this,” Ms. Sweeney said. “The state wears a big blindfold.”
Helene Fuld receives -$352 every time one of its lifemobiles is used on a call, regardless if a local squad is already there. The hospital uses the fees to help run the program.
Mr. Maghazehe said that lifemobiles based in Trenton respond to all necessary emergency calls within the region.
The hospital official said the fees charged by Helene Fuld are “barely enough to cover our costs” of vehicles. equipment and salaries. He noted that the patient’s private insurance company or Medicare will pick up the tab, in most cases.