19 November 1980
Money puts paramedics in peril
by Pam Hersh
The six-month-old paid paramedic program for the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad is in excellent shape, according to the results of the program’s first physical exam.
But the S32,500 program, jointly funded for one year by the two Princetons (borough pays one-third, township pays two-thirds), has an uncertain prognosis for a healthy and long life because of the budget crises faced by both municipalities. Borough officials, in particular, have started discussing the “very bleak fiscal picture for 1981. a situation which is bound to lead to curtailment or cutbacks in certain (but not yet specified) areas.” said Councilman Richard Macgill during a council budget discussion three weeks ago
THE INTERIM Report on Daytime Paid Personnel, released by the squad at the Joint First Aid Squad Committee meeting on Nov. 13. stated that the paramedic program has enabled the squad to make a marked improvement in its service to the community.
First of all, the “paramedics guarantee advanced life support availability during working hours, and approximately 30 percent of all squad calls (and 40 percent of the emergency dispatches) occur during the weekday working hours,” according to the report.
Secondly, the data illustrates the advantage of the paid personnel both in terms of response time and certainty of response. The paramedics’ average response time is substantially better than the response time of an all-volunteer squad.
“Average response times for both the paid crews and volunteers arc impressive, with 50 percent of the volunteer calls and 82 percent of the paid calls responding in six minutes or less. However, response times for 10 percent of the volunteer calls were 11 minutes or more, where as only one percent of the responses by the paid crews took that long.”
Although two volunteers usually assist the paramedics on a call, 21 instances in the past six months, no volunteer was able to assist. The squad now responds to approximately 20 more calls per month than it used to do. and the Princeton squad has not had to call a neighboring first aid squad for assistance since the paramedics were hired.
THE REPORT concludes listing how the paramedics contribute to the welfare to the community in other ways such as: 1 ) assisting in the Princeton Medical Center Emergency Room each day from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; 2) providing public education to the community, such as CPR refresher for school nurses. CPR instruction for life guards, and CPR demonstrations for school students; and 3) improving the skills and knowledge of the volunteers who work with the paramedics.
“The paramedics offer an obviously essential service to the communities. I cannot conceive of the governments eliminating such an important service.” said squad captain Edwin Obert.
Although it may be hard for Mr. Obert to conceive of the government abandoning the paramedic program. Councilman Richard Woodbridge, who is council’s representative to the joint first aid committee, is “quite concerned that other members of council and perhaps Township Committee members may find it quite conceivable to do away with a service without which the community lived for many years.
“I am worried because next year the paramedic program will require more money- fa salary increase for the paramedics, plus the cost of an increase in the fringe benefits). and the municipal governments, which are very strapped for money, may decide to eliminate the program. But I feel that for what the borough pays— less than $10,000 — the residents are getting the best emergency service available and a service which is absolutely necessary for the welfare of all the residents.” said Mr. Woodbridge.
Mayor Robert Cawley at a news conference three weeks ago said. “The borough is in a real fiscal bind, because of stale spending limits (caps) and low ratable growth. Perhaps, in retrospect, we never should have funded the paramedics.”
ASIDE FROM the mayor’s comment, no other borough or township official has given an inkling about what may or may not be cut from the budgets.
Committee member Kate Litvak, who serves as the township representative to the joint first aid squad committee, said the township has not yet discussed the 1981 budget. “But money will be very tight because of caps and because of our legal fees. I know that new programs tend to have the most precarious futures, compared to old established programs. But I also know that the township committee wholeheartedly and unanimously endorsed the paid paramedic program last year when the program was first brought up. The squad’s paramedics have been extremely valuable, as indicated by the interim report. And I am certain if there is any way for the township to continue funding the program, the township will find the way.”