The Sparta Ambulance Squad, which has been operating with just volunteers during its 65 years of existence, is adding in paid employees and charging patients in order to continue providing its emergency medical services to the township.
Capt. Andrew Smetana of the squad told the Sparta Township Council at Tuesday's meeting about the changes, which are expected to take place next month.
"We find it necessary to put on some paid EMTs during the day to make sure we have the manpower to take care of the town the way we need to take care of it," Smetana said. "We're just trying to be a little progressive and stay ahead of any major problems that may arise from us not being able to answer the calls in a timely fashion."
Smetana said that the squad has missed about 40 to 50 percent of all calls because the limited number of volunteers—many of which have of other jobs—are not always available. The squad receives about 1,500 calls per year, with about 70 percent of those calls during the day. Smetana said that about 1 to 5 percent of the missed calls occur at night.
In order to continue to handle the calls 24 hours a day, the squad is looking to hire six to 10 paid employees to work a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift Monday through Friday.
This new model they're looking at is what Smetana says the Hopatcong Ambulance Squad implemented two years ago, with the same amount of paid workers during the week. The model keeps the volunteers working on weekends and during the night, which is what Sparta plans to do as well.
This amounts to the paid staff working 60 hours per week and the volunteers working for 108 hours.
The squad had to obtain a state license in order to charge the patients who use the service, which will be billed through their car or health insurances.
Also under the license, Smetana said that the squad's ambulances—which are currently in the township's name—have to be turned over to the squad in order to comply with the state regulations.
Smetana said the plans are to have two staff members on during the day, with maintaining its backup from nearby towns and St. Clare's Hospital.
The squad will continue to run as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation and operate with its current mutual aid agreements, but will now be regulated under the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.
Mayor Jerry Murphy said the the new changes will not be a burden to taxpayers because the employees will not be on the payroll, and instead be paid per diem without benefits.
Smetana also said at the meeting that many squads are following the same trend because they can't afford the staff all paid in this economy.
"We're in the business of life support and providing an ambulance," he said. "If you're not doing that you have to reevaluate why you're there. [We've had] 65 years of 100 percent volunteer since 1947 when the ambulance squad was formed. And now, throughout the country you see a lot of combination departments that exist part paid, part volunteer."