Bellmore-Merrick’s Emergency Medical Services is primarily funded through insurance billings for ambulance transports — but as at-home responses become more frequent to keep patients out of hospitals, much of that money has dried up. Thankfully, officials said, there has been an outpouring of support from the community.
“I can’t stress this enough: The support has been absolutely amazing,” Assistant Chief Scott Resnik said. “And that’s what keeps us going.”
Bellmore-Merrick EMS prepared for the coronavirus outbreak early with new policies and practices to protect members from exposure and prevent its spread within the department (see box) — “but we couldn’t prepare for the economic impact,” Resnik said.
He explained that the Bellmore-Merrick EMS receives no public funding through taxes and largely relies on billing ambulance rides to patients’ insurance companies. The goal has been to keep patients out of hospitals, however, meaning many patients have been treated at the scene of calls. As a result, funding for the department has “dropped dramatically,” Resnik said.
The group has also been busier than ever. The call volume has increased, sometimes with two or three calls at once, and members often assist other emergency response agencies. Additional personnel have also been hired to staff the headquarters 24 hours a day.
Community support — including fundraising — has not slowed down. Donations through the Bellmore-Merrick EMS website and through mailers have been consistent or even higher than in past years, Resnik said.
A fundraiser was also started on Facebook by Merrick resident Edward Zilberman, who feels a sense of personal gratitude for the EMS. Earlier this year, when he called 911 due to heart disease concerns, members of the Bellmore-Merrick EMS were the first to respond.
“These are Bellmore-Merrick EMS volunteers, but I see them as neighbors,” Zilberman said. “They are the first ones coming when there’s an emergency.”
The Facebook fundraiser has collected more than $1,500, which will go to the EMS’s day-to-day operations — “but it’s not enough,” Zilberman said. “I think the community can do more.”
After the coronavirus outbreak, Zilberman made it a personal goal to help the EMS regularly, he said.
The community is also keeping the volunteers well fed after food stocking costs were among the first items to be cut to reduce expenses and control the department budget. Full meals have been donated from multiple businesses, including Bagel Boss of Merrick and Fat Boy’s Burrito Co., and from community members in the Bellmore Merrick Helping Our Heroes Facebook group.
The support has helped keep Bellmore-Merrick EMS afloat, but the department is still struggling with limited restocks of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves or gowns, Resnik said.
If residents have coronavirus concerns, they can call the Bellmore-Merrick EMS at (516) 742-3300, Resnik said, even if they are unsure about being symptomatic and just want reassurance, or if a family member needs to be checked on.
“We are in total solidarity with our community,” Resnik said. “We shall get through this.”