Cornell students are collaborating with local emergency services to address countywide issues in operation.

Tyler Alicea / Sun File Photo

Cornell students are collaborating with local emergency services to address countywide issues in operation.

April 11, 2018

Cornell Faculty and Students Propose Solutions for Tompkins County EMS Problems

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Faculty and students of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs and the systems engineering department have been working with Tompkins County to tackle deficiencies in the emergency medical services of cities and towns across the county.

The Tompkins County Emergency Response Task Force was created to address EMS issues, which found that the main problems were a lack of volunteers and a lack of standardization between systems used in different towns.

Prof. Rebecca Brenner, human ecology, told The Sun that the “big trigger event” for the establishment of the taskforce was the town of Caroline’s loss of their ambulance service due to a lack of volunteers.

Brenner and Prof. Dan Lamb, human ecology, have worked with students since the spring of 2017 to address this issue. They are both faculty at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, and Lamb is also a deputy supervisor in the town of Dryden.

“CIPA is looking [into] more about public policy and more about government structure and processes,” Brenner said. She developed this task as a project for her consulting class, PADM 5900.

Steven McCarthy grad, under the direction of Prof. Al George, director of graduate studies in systems engineering, has worked on this project for two semesters. They utilized a systems engineering approach to analyze the problems with EMS and develop solutions.

First, McCarthy worked to understand the objectives of the task force by “soliciting each of the stakeholders and determining what their goals and requirements were” before consolidating this information and ranking it, he told The Sun.

“From there you go into structural solutions, and the rest of this process is just testing and other ways to measure the success of the system that you define or implement, McCarthy said. “The third part of that was gathering all of the details and intricacies and interfaces of the systems.”

According to McCarthy, the most challenging aspect of the project was deciding which pieces of data were most important, as well as how to present it so that it tells an “accurate story” that is also “a story that influences change.”

CIPA, along with the systems engineering department and the task force, presented their findings to the Tompkins County Council of Governments. They outlined recommendations such as increasing volunteerism through recruitment and the optimization of county resources.

“We’re using a patchwork system right now and it’s delivering uneven services in our county … we’re overextended, and we don’t have enough volunteers,” Lamb told The Sun.

Irene Weiser, board member of the town of Caroline and head of the task force, told The Sun that volunteerism is “something that we’re losing in our current society.”

The study also noted the high stress environment that EMS volunteers face that exacerbates this issue.

“What’s shocking is how much [the volunteers] are asked to do,” Brenner said.

“It’s hard work, it’s dangerous work,” Weiser echoed.

However, she, along with Brenner and Lamb, recognize a need for improved outreach.

“We as a community could probably do a better job of getting the word out that we need this kind of support and engagement from our residents,” Weiser said.

She added that Weisler is “not ready to give up hope on volunteering yet,” emphasizing that she thinks there are “a lot of people that really do care.”

Weiser noted the role that Cornell has played in solving this crisis.

“This has been a fabulous collaboration between the Tompkins County Council of Governments and Cornell … what Cornell and the students were able to bring is research and tools to help us think about the problem in new ways,” Weiser said.

Brenner and Lamb reflected on the value this project has for Cornell.

“It benefits the University by networking the University more into the community. It benefits the student[s] by giving them real-world experience,” Lamb said.

“It makes me feel both really proud to be a part of Cornell and CIPA, and to be able to give back to the community like this,” Brenner said.