Ambulance providers warn of 'EMS deserts' across Connecticut

When you call 911, you expect an ambulance within minutes. But Thursday, emergency services providers offered a bleak prognosis to state lawmakers.
"You can sum it up in two words,” said Bruce Baxter, president of the Connecticut EMS Chiefs Association. “It's a financial concern and a workforce concern.”
EMS providers, lobbyists for cities and towns, and hospital groups all weighed in before the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee. All agreed the situation is nearing a breaking point, especially in rural areas.
The problem? Not enough money and not enough workers.
"Some towns saw a drop of half of their voluntary EMTs during this time – up to a third in some other towns,” said Betsy Gara, president of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns.
For smaller ambulance companies, it's a perfect storm: COVID, a huge spike in overdose calls, higher fuel costs, and competition from major hospitals that have bought up private ambulance companies and can afford to offer higher salaries. In some towns like Durham, EMS companies have already shut down.
"We're moving towards ‘EMS deserts’ in our state. Is that a fair way of looking at it?” asked state Sen. Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor).
"Yes, that's where things are going, but it doesn't have to,” replied Ben Zura with the Connecticut Association of Paramedics & EMTs.
All this is already affecting patients. According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, in 2018, the average response time was eight minutes. By 2020, it was up to 13 minutes.
The situation could also end up costing you or your insurance carrier more for an ambulance ride. Providers are pushing for higher reimbursements. DPH approved a 2.8% increase for 2023, but seven EMS companies are asking for more.
"There are only so many spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts that you can hold to fund EMS,” said Robert Glaspy with the Connecticut Association of Paramedics & EMTs.
The dire situation could also mean higher taxes. Some towns are now hiring full-time EMTs instead of volunteers – and some are offering incentives like free gym memberships and even property tax breaks.
"I think we need to be looking at incentives, rather than sticks, to encourage some of these things from going forward,” said Mike Muszynski, the strategy director for Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, a lobbying group for all 169 cities and towns across the state.
Some towns are also consolidating ambulance services, but EMS leaders say that also carries a risk of longer response times.