Lawmakers in New York want to create a task force to study rural ambulance services in rural areas of the state that would develop solutions to access and funding concerns for emergency medical services. 

The bill was given final approval on Wednesday and now heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk for his consideration. 

The measure comes as ambulance services in rural areas continue to face challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made those issues more apparent, supporters of the bill said. Financial strains have made it difficult for some services to remain open, limiting access for rural residents.  

“The reality is, many ambulance services here in upstate New York have been operating short-staffed for years, and those challenges have only increased during the pandemic," said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, a sponsor of the bill. "As emergency medical services in rural communities buckle under financial strain and difficult circumstances, our families are the ones that pay the price."

Two ambulance services in rural Fulton County, part of Santabarbara's district, went out of business in recent years following money problems. Overall, more than two dozen services have had to close their doors. 

The task force, if signed into law, would be required to examine reimbursement structures and other barriers to remaining open, while also submitting recommendations. 

“When an ambulance is called, every second counts. We have seen too many ambulance services close their doors, and we can’t risk seeing more do the same, not when lives are on the line," Santabarbara said. "The work of this task force will help much-needed solutions to the health care inequities faced by these rural communities.”