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A volunteer ambulance service thrives; Pike County teases its first hospital

Delaware Township Ambulance Corps shows their new automated stretcher to local politicians. The stretcher allows for better control of patients' positions, and reduces the risk of back injury for EMS workers. Corps President Carl Will and EMS Chief Kyle Wright move the stretcher. Pike County Chairman Matthew Osterburg watches from afar.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Delaware Township Ambulance Corps shows their new automated stretcher to local politicians. The stretcher allows for better control of patients' positions, and reduces the risk of back injury for EMS workers. Corps President Carl Will and EMS Chief Kyle Wright move the stretcher. Pike County Chairman Matthew Osterburg watches from afar.

Pike County commissioners teased plans for the county's first hospital at the unveiling of a new ambulance equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment.

The Delaware Township Volunteer Ambulance Corps showed off the new ambulance to township supervisors and county commissioners on Thursday.

That money comes from a partnership between the county and the township. Around two years ago, township supervisors invested $500,000 into the volunteer ambulance corps, said Chairman John Henderson. The county matched the township’s donation.

EMS Chief Kyle Wright thanked local officials for awarding the corps $1,000,000. Their investment is saving lives. They now staff their service 24/7 and can afford top-of-the-line medical equipment, he said.

“Back in the day, we all had to come from home to get the ambulance and the equipment, and then go to the patient and take them to the hospital,” said Wright. “And time is not on anybody’s side then. So, we can see that in our data. That, not just response times, but…really good metrics of patients suffering a heart attack…living. Y’know, in Pike County, where you couldn’t live before.”

Chairman Henderson joined Wright in celebrating the corps' achievements. There are no hospitals in Pike County. The nearest one is over 40 minutes away from Delaware Township. However, the corps reaches township residents within minutes, he said.

“And now there’s somebody sitting here, and ‘Boom!’ They’re out. And there’s a response from the call to the ambulance itself and then there’s that time from the ambulance to –” began Henderson before an ambulance took off, responding to a call.

Henderson was cut off by the sound of one of the corps’ ambulances rushing off to a scene. The ambulance was on its way within a minute of getting the call, said Delaware Township Vice-chairman Rick Koehler.

Besides a new ambulance, the corps bought updated cardiac and CPR equipment. EMS Chief Wright demoed their cardiac device – it can contact nearby specialty cardiac teams on the go.

“By just pressing this button, it alerts the entire cardiac care team for one of those hospitals [who] are at home. And then they’ll start driving to the hospital to meet us the second we arrive,” said Wright. “So there’s no delay in care. The hospital’s emergency room physician doesn’t need to interpret the EKG. It’s already being sent. They don’t need to wait and then call the cardiac care team, it’s already happening in real time.”

One of Delaware Township Volunteer Ambulance Corps's cardiac machines. It can run EKGs and even alert local cardiac medical teams to an incoming patient's needs.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
One of Delaware Township Volunteer Ambulance Corps' cardiac machines. It can run EKGs and even alert local cardiac medical teams to an incoming patient's needs.

First Lieutenant Meaghan Irwin said her team needs that extra equipment because they cover a medical desert. First lieutenants deal with the day-to-day ambulance service needs.

“It’s very beneficial for us in this area to have all of this advanced medicine and everything, because of the transport times,” said Irwin. “We’re looking at 45 minutes to a level 3 or a level 2 trauma center.”

However, Commissioner Vice-chair Ronald Schmalzle promised that Pike County will solve its medical crisis in just three years.

“Very shortly, you’re going to hear an announcement of the first hospital in Pike County and two emergent care centers that are going to be opened up. The emergent care centers are going to open up before the next year, and the hospital, we hope to have within three years,” said Schmalzle.

Pike County is working with Northwell Health, a New York medical organization, and the Lehigh Valley Health Network on the project. Schmalzle said further information will come out about the urgent centers in the next month, and the hospital within the next two months.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.

You can email Isabella at isabelaweiss@wvia.org