HUDSON — Columbia County emergency services received state funding to improve communications across departments, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday.
Services were awarded $454,749 and Greene County received $448,006, according to a press release. The grant, known as the Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant, is funded by cellular surcharge revenue.
Funding can be used by counties to enhance emergency response for county, local and municipal public safety organizations, improve capability, improve governance structures, operating procedures, infrastructure development and addressing SAFECOM guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Communications.
The grant provided $45 million of assistance statewide, according to the release.
“One of the keys to successful emergency response is a communications structure that all responders can depend on to relay important information and improve overall response activities,” Hochul said in a statement. “This grant will ensure our firefighters, police officers, EMTs and paramedics and anyone who responds to a disaster will have the tools and training they need to communicate more effectively and efficiently.”
The funding comes as emergency services in the county are busier than ever. As of Sept. 23, Columbia Memorial Health was diverting patients from the emergency room, causing ambulances to transport to other facilities.
Columbia County 911 Director Rob Lopez said the funds will ultimately be used for a communication system that will provide one platform for public safety communication across the county.
Lopez said the equipment can be costly, so outside funding is welcome.
“It’s very helpful,” he said.
Communication between emergency responders has been especially pertinent as services have faced several challenges.
“When any facility within our region goes on diversion it affects the availability of recourses able to respond to emergencies for our residents,” Columbia County EMS Coordinator P.J. Keeler said. “For example, if an ambulance were to come pick up PJ Keeler here and say, ‘Hey CMH is on diversion, do you want to go to another facility,’ and I said, ‘Yeah and we go up to Albany, its an hour up and an hour back.’ So it takes that ambulance resource out of service for a while.”
Albany Medical Center, St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany and Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck are some of the other facilities a person could be brought to instead of CMH. Albany Medical Center is about 37 miles from CMH and Northern Dutchess Hospital is about 26 miles away.
The Columbia County EMS system includes all municipal agencies, Keeler said. This allows the 911 center to move people around from area to area as needed.
“That has really saved us,” Keeler said. “Because we’ll find one agency may be having a difficult time staffing, or people call in sick, other agencies can chip in when their call volume dictates it. We do have the county covered, but we could use more EMTs and paramedics, not just in Columbia County, but regionally and nationally as well.”
On top of the diversion, there is also an ongoing shortage of emergency medical technicians nationwide — the medics who respond when a 911 call goes out for a medical emergency.
Training regionally and in Columbia County was suspended during the pandemic, Keeler said. New training classes regionally and in Columbia County are full but these classes will not graduate until next fall. A typical EMT training class has between 10 and 15 students.
“I think a couple agencies have lost some personnel, but due to the lull in training, in the meantime, they haven’t been able to replenish them,” Keeler said. “I haven’t seen the fallout from the pandemic. What we’re experiencing basically is a lack of new people coming in because of that lull in training.”
State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Patrick A. Murphy said in a statement that the grant will help agencies collaborate.
“Our emergency responders depend on robust and secure communications systems connecting them to vital information and services. Information sharing between responders allows New Yorkers to get the help they need when it matters most,” Murphy said. “Our staff remain committed to ensuring effective emergency communications capabilities across the State, and working with our partners to build a stronger, more resilient, and dependable emergency communications infrastructure.”