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Investigation into volunteer EMS shortage in New Jersey

July 17, 2013 2:48:07 PM PDT
An elderly woman critically was hurt and waiting for help, so why did it take more than a half hour for an ambulance to come?

It happened in a New Jersey suburb at 6:30 in the morning.

An elderly woman falls down the stairs, fractures her skull and injures her spine.

But it takes 34 minutes for the ambulance to arrive, not because of some mix-up, but because of a shortage of volunteers.

"We haven't been able to get an ambulance here, which is totally unacceptable," said Francisco Reyes, the victim's son-in-law.

When his mother-in-law fell down the stairs, Francisco Reyes immediately called 911.

His cell phone shows he made that call at 6:32 on Tuesday morning. He expected a quick arrival since The Hasbrouck Heights EMS squad is one mile from his house.

"No ambulance has come, we have paramedics from Hackensack," Reyes said.

Police arrived in less than 10 minutes, in 15 minutes hospital paramedics which do not transport patients also arrived. But 25 minutes after his call there was still no ambulance and the injuries were life-threatening.

"They are replacing the oxygen, no ambulance here, no ambulance, and they are switching the oxygen already, it's ridiculous," Reyes said.

"There's no telling what kind of injuries she had, so I started filming out of frustration. I took my iPhone out and started filming," Reyes said.

A picture taken with his iPhone shows an ambulance from the neighboring town, finally arrived 34 minutes after the 911 call. The Hasbrouck Heights EMS was unable to respond because it relies on volunteers, and when the call came in, they were unavailable.

"It's harder to get people who can dedicate the amount of time," said Michael Kronyak, Borough Administrator.

The borough administrator says it's been a struggle to staff the volunteer ambulance squad, in part, because of demanding training requirements.

"You can't just show up and say I want to join the ambulance and we say good, see you on the next call. It takes months of training," Kronyak said.

Several years ago, a report commissioned by the state Health Department found that a decline in volunteer membership has put New Jersey's EMS system in a state of near crisis.

"They are switching the oxygen," Reyes said.

This 34 minute wait for an ambulance suggests that crisis continues.

"I want some answers. I have children and this is the last thing I want another emergency, God forbid," Reyes said.

The paramedic on the scene told the Reyes' that the slow response by volunteer EMS happens all the time.

One of the paramedics even suggested the family write their Congressman to complain.

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