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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    SBVAC’s budget crisis, uncovered by true insiders

    Why does a college club like the Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps, (SBVAC) which receives a six figure budget, need more money? This is a question that is asked by many individuals who are not familiar with the daily functions of SBVAC and its necessity on campus. However, digging deeper into the organization itself and seeing what we do each day may shed some light onto that question. SBVAC was founded in 1970 by a group of students who saw a need for a campus based ambulance company to cut down on the slow response times of neighboring fire departments. Since SBVAC’s first response to an emergency more than forty years ago, SBVAC has stayed true to the same mission. The organization’s mission is to prove the fastest and highest level of pre-hospital emergency care to the students, faculty, staff and visitors of the Stony Brook community. SBVAC operates 24/7, 365 days a year, responding to over 1100 emergency calls on campus and the surrounding area. With three advanced life support ambulances, an advanced life support first responder vehicle and 133 volunteer members (many of whom are paramedics and critical care EMTs), SBVAC provides around-the-clock care to the campus and community.

    Now, this accomplishment isn’t very different from the accomplishments of hundreds of fire departments and ambulance companies across Suffolk County. However, the uniqueness of our organization, which separates us from every other New York State Department of Health certified ambulance company, is our budget. SBVAC provides the same level of care to every patient as other agencies, but at a fraction of a basic operating budget. Although we have been providing quality care at only about 15% of the budget of most fire and ambulance companies on Long Island for over 42 years, we can no longer operate on such a low budget.

    It seems biased that the Chief and President of SBVAC are fighting for budget increases. However, in reality, we are the most informed individuals to explain the need for a budget increase. We experience on a daily basis that running an organization charged with saving lives with an insufficient budget is nearly impossible. How have we survived so far? How have we continued to care for our patients, sometimes responding to over 15 emergencies a day in record low response times, despite having a lower than adequate budget for the past five years? The answer is that we have delayed the replacement of many vital items including our ambulances, stretchers, cardiac monitors, reflective jackets and radios. Recently we have even had to take money out of our savings, intended to replace an ambulance which is nearly 16 years old early next year, in order to make the payments to our loans and insurance carries. This year our agency was further deprived of necessary funds. SBVAC’s budget was cut by $24,000 by the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). While nearby agencies with over one million dollar budgets (SBVAC responds to roughly the same percentage of calls as most of these agencies) saw increases in their budgets last year, SBVAC’s $165,000 budget was reduced by $24,000.

    This year, adding to our already strained budget woes, we are mandated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to replace all of our radio equipment due to a national adjustment to the radio spectrum. Without this radio equipment, it is impossible to function in emergency services. However, since this equipment replacement will cost nearly $10,000 by the end of 2012, finding these funds will be extremely difficult. Furthermore, to make matters worse, we have experienced huge increases in vehicle maintenance costs, due to operating a nearly 16-year-old ambulance. In the past ten months, SBVAC has spent over $35,000 on vehicle repair costs and maintenance alone. However, for our new 2009 ambulance; maintenance and repair costs have been close to zero due to the high quality of the vehicle and warranty coverage. So why not just replace the nearly 16-year-old ambulance? The reason is a new ambulance costs over $160,000 (larger than our entire allocated budget from the USG), and our savings for that have been nearly eliminated to make up for the difference in our allocated budget and our actual operating costs over the last five years. Without the necessary funds to make a purchase of a new ambulance, we will be forced to continue repairing an antiquated vehicle with no end in sight. It is impossible for us to look down the road and make the necessary purchases for the long term financial health of SBVAC without any adequate savings. Due to the low budget provided by USG, we can only look a year into the future to plan versus five to ten, hurting the company in the long run.

    How will SBVAC survive? Essentially, in order to keep SBVAC operating, there must be a budget increase. According to projections and estimates from our insurance carrier, SBVAC will operate at $200,000 in the 2012-2013 academic year, which is only 20% of the budget for most similarly sized ambulance companies. Allocation of anything less than $200,000 puts our company, and our patients, at unacceptable risks. It is imperative that all parties involved in allocating our budget understand the risk when allocating us a budget of anything lower than $200,000 next year. We are vital to the safety of the Stony Brook University community. Our neighboring fire departments are physically and financially unable to pick up the over 1,100 emergency calls on campus (the local fire departments receive no tax money from the university since it is state property). We are unquestionably the cheapest and most cost effective method of providing emergency medical services to the entire population of this university, but we also have a minimum operating budget, and we hope that everyone realizes it.  In the end, it is the students, faculty, staff and members of the Stony Brook University community that will inherit the risks of such a budget crisis. Without a budget increase, SBVAC cannot continue to provide the highest quality of emergency medical care to this campus, which we have been providing for the past 42 years.

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