Pioneering emergency response program in NJ cuts response times drastically; can it be done in NYC?

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NEW JERSEY -- Now that a private ambulance service that had served the city has gone out of business, a situation that Mayor Bill De Blasio has admitted is a problem now appears to be becoming worse.

Ambulance response times in New York City, which are already high, run the risk of becoming even higher.

It's a situation that has some critics of the city's health emergency response program encouraging New York to look across the Hudson to a pilot program in Jersey City, that's already showing noteworthy results.

Mayor De Blasio and FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro last year announced a city initiative to increase New York ambulance tours by about five percent in order to reduce an average response time in the city that hovers around nine minutes per call.

Then, last week theTransCare ambulance service, a private company that shared some response coverage with the FDNY, went out of business.

That development reduced the number of ambulance tours by 10 percent, virtually wiping out any of the improvements that the mayor's initiative from last year had tried to achieve.

Despite the current situation, some people with strong knowledge of ambulance coverage is seeing this as an opportunity.

"It's not just minimal cost, it's no cost," said Mark Gerson, chairman of United Rescue, a network of volunteer medical professionals who train for months to respond to health emergencies close to wherever they are. Through his organization's model, Gerson said, "lives get saved."

United Rescue has been in operation in Jersey City, New Jersey's second largest municipality, since December. Private donors provide state of the art emergency equipment to the nearly three dozen volunteers, who keep the equipment with them in their vehicles, homes or offices for immediate use.

Each kit contains all of the same lifesaving gear that an ambulance holds, such as a defibrillator, other CPR equipment, a wide variety of sterilized bandages, and so on.

Every volunteer is connected to Jersey City's 911 system and to all of the other volunteers through a smartphone app that alerts them to any emergency call near them, so they can respond immediately.

Average emergency medical response tImes in Jersey City have plummeted. "We are at the forefront," said Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop in an interview. "We have the fastest response times in the country, about three minutes."

To put that in perspective, brain damage from a heart attack begins after three minutes, and can be eliminated if a heart attack patient is stabilized in that time. It's also less than half the average response time in Jersey City 10 years ago.

This lifesaving situation is just three-quarters of a mile M from New York City, across the Hudson River, but it may as well be a world away.

The union for New York City EMTs says that its mission is to save lives and to make them healthier in any way possible. But the union's president, Israel Miranda, said that in a city that's 30 times the size of Jersey City, a set up like United Rescue isn't feasible.

"This is a job for full time professionals," he said in an interview, "although we welcome volunteers in emergencies."

Miranda also said that how response times are measured makes a difference. He said that in New York City, response times are not based on when a first responder first shows up at the scene of an emergency call.

Firefighters typically arrive first at an emergency scene, he told PIX11 News, then an ambulance arrives. For that reason, he said, patients get faster care than official response times may indicate.

Miranda also said that what is needed for New York is a much larger corps of full time EMTs, as well as more ambulances to support them.