For good reason, the cars have been lining up on the grass outside the Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SVAC) building on Weaver Street the past couple of weeks. Scarsdale residents are used to seeing cars parked there. The building is always busy with members and volunteers in training classes or coming and going on calls, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. But since November, hundreds of residents have been filing in and out of the building as SVAC has added a new service — it is now authorized to provide COVID testing and vaccinations, including booster shots and pediatric vaccines for students.
“We are delighted to do this for the community,” said SVAC President David Raizen. “We are under no obligation to do this, we’re just trying to do the right thing. We are absolutely doing the right thing for our community.”
The vaccine service was an immediate hit with Scarsdale residents as all available appointment times filled up in two hours once registration opened for the public to sign up.
Those residents who have been lucky enough to get on the schedule are extremely grateful for another smooth operation offered and implemented by SVAC.
“It was extremely convenient to have this right in our backyard,” said resident Sherrie Matusz after getting her booster shot. “The SVAC couldn’t have done a better job, everyone was terrific to work with and I was in and out in 25 minutes and that included the 15-minute waiting period after the shot. It actually went much smoother than where I went to get my first vaccine.”
The first day SVAC administered more than 170 booster shots and 100 pediatric shots as soon as they were approved.
Since then, in just two weeks, SVAC has given 1,400 no-fee vaccines to Scarsdale residents, including 168 vaccines on Tuesday, Dec. 7, about 180 on Thursday, Dec. 9, with 300 more scheduled on Saturday, Dec. 11. More vaccine clinic dates will be scheduled in January, depending on the demand from the community.
In addition to the vaccines being administered at SVAC, the corps is also making house calls to provide free vaccines for housebound residents. Contact 914-722-2288.
Next Saturday, Dec. 18, SVAC will once again implement its program of providing first or second doses of the COVID vaccines for children based around the school year-end break.
“We are starting the pediatric vaccines again on [Dec.] 18th,” explained Raizen. “That’s because you have to come back 21 days after the first dose. We did pediatric doses [in late November], but we held off on doing more first doses until right before Christmas so [children] can get the second dose right when they get back from the holiday break. We are really excited to do this for the community and what a huge step this is for the community.”
Despite all the hard work involved to undertake this service, the corps did not hesitate to take on the responsibility once New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul issued an executive order to allow ambulance corps to help out during the pandemic.
“This is being done through the governor's executive orders allowing us to do community paramedicine,” said Raizen. “We are one of two facilities in Westchester County who filed in New York State to do this. The other is in Ossining.”
As soon as it got approval from the state the SVAC team got to work to make it happen.
Behind the scenes, the corps has been busy setting up the service to meet all the government regulations and guidelines. SVAC volunteer personnel have been donating their time to register and do all the official paperwork, as well as administer the shots and everything else it takes to run the operation each day.
“It is a gigantic undertaking,” admitted Raizen. “There are four of us working on this full time and everyone is involved. From the people outside working on parking, to the vaccinators who took the classes to [learn to] do this, to someone driving to get the vaccines, to someone mixing the vaccines, there is a lot going on to make this happen. As long as we have the capability to do it, I believe we should provide this as a public service to our community.”
One Scarsdale resident who fully understands what SVAC has done for the community during the course of the pandemic is former Mayor Marc Samwick. He was in office when the pandemic broke out in 2020 and he saw firsthand how valuable SVAC was to the local community.
“SVAC is a community gem,” said Samwick. “Never has the community recognized how much SVAC does for us than during the pandemic. At the onset of the pandemic, SVAC worked harder than ever in the face of unknown danger. Throughout the pandemic, SVAC members continued to provide Scarsdale with the highest quality care — as they have for decades. Recently, SVAC has started delivering in-home care as well as providing vaccinations and testing at the ambulance corps.”
In addition to the vaccination service, SVAC is also offering COVID testing on a daily basis Monday through Friday — another valuable service for residents, especially anybody preparing to travel for the holidays. The corps can do PCR tests with the results available in about 15 minutes. The corps is registered as a laboratory in New York State, so the test results are official to use for foreign travel with some exceptions.
To date SVAC has administered 8,000 tests. SVAC has to pay for the tests and the lab work, so they have to charge a fee ($75) to cover the costs, but the patient can submit a receipt to insurance, which is something SVAC cannot do.
“It is an enormous expense for us to do the testing and we’re barely covering the costs for the tests,” explained Raizen. “Absolutely, anyone can submit it to their insurance and we give them all the paperwork to do that. We are not making any money on the tests, we’re just doing it as a service for our community.”
Flu tests and shots
As of Thursday, Dec. 9, SVAC was approved to conduct fee-based influenza swab testing, and is planning to provide flu shots as well, both of which patients can claim through their insurance. The recommended time span between getting a booster and a flu shot is two weeks, according to SVAC vice president Drew Hahn.
SVAC has been able to provide all the services it has offered during the pandemic while maintaining their incredible service record as an emergency ambulance service for Scarsdale.
Paramedics always on hand
The testing and vaccinating is a big operation being undertaken by SVAC, and it is being implemented and carried out by the dedicated volunteers who make the corps function. SVAC is one of the few volunteer ambulance corps capable of providing the type of services it does to a local community. It is equipped to provide advanced life support services for residents, with one paid paramedic on duty around the clock along with six volunteer paramedics at all times. All the volunteers are trained and certified as the corps offers all the required courses to maintain their staff requirements.
It takes a lot of effort and manpower to offer their service 24 hours a day seven days a week, according to Raizen.
“Yesterday there were three times during the day where three ambulances were needed at the same time and we turned out three crews with a paramedic for each call,” said Raizen. “We turn out every time.”
The members and volunteers make it all possible as they go above and beyond the call of duty to answer calls, and also to provide services like the COVID vaccinations and testing.
With that in mind, the corps is always looking for and willing to work with anyone interested in volunteering to become a member. Anyone can join to give back to their community, even if he or she does not want to be trained as an EMT to drive or ride in the ambulances to respond to calls.
“Most residents don't realize what SVAC does until they're having one of the worst days of their life,” said Dwight Stephens, 67, who has lived on Barry Road since 1979. Stephens said he became keenly aware of the essential role SVAC plays, after he retired and became a volunteer member of SVAC and an EMT in 2018. “I like the idea of neighbor helping neighbor and that is what SVAC does and they're doing more and more trying to help the community. It's been an enormous task doing the vaccines and testing. Whatever the need, the ambulance corps rises to the occasion and that has certainly been the case during the pandemic."
The corps needs auxiliary members willing to help out in other ways, such as people behind the scenes registering people for vaccines and also helping to do the sign-in and paperwork onsite during the vaccine program.
For anyone willing to become a trained EMT, SVAC is also a fully operational training center offering EMT and advanced EMT classes year-round. It has now trained more than 1,000 EMTs. It offers a senior options program for Scarsdale High School students to volunteer, and an intensive six-week EMT class specifically for Scarsdale students who want the training.
Funded by donations, not taxes
Many Scarsdale residents also do not realize that SVAC is, true to its name, primarily a volunteer organization that is not run by the village nor is it funded by local taxes.
Scarsdale Mayor Jane Veron has seen firsthand the effort involved by SVAC to provide the vaccine and testing services during the pandemic.
“I want to express my appreciation and admiration for SVAC as it has taken heroic measures to vaccinate, boost and test members of our community,” said Veron. “Under the leadership of David Raizen, SVAC volunteers have risen to the challenge, addressing our public health crisis with convenient, supportive and effective care. Scarsdale receives SVAC’s service without a significant cost to taxpayers. Instead it is the philanthropy of our residents that ensures SVAC’s continued operation. We are so grateful to the community for your [tax-deductible] contributions.”
Former Mayor Samwick continues to be a supporter of SVAC operations and he has been trying to bring attention to the current fundraising effort.
“SVAC is a volunteer organization that relies on the community’s generous support to fund its operations,” said Samwick. “In a typical year, about 20% of Scarsdale households donate during SVAC’s annual fund drive. During the current fund drive, about 5% of households have contributed so far. Many of SVAC's generous donors have required SVAC’s advanced life support services in the past. It is important that people don't wait until they need SVAC’s expert care before they become regular donors. Having seen SVAC’s operations up close, I cannot emphasize enough how much SVAC members give to Scarsdale. During SVAC’s fund drive, it's the community’s turn to show how much we appreciate the outstanding care that SVAC provides to us throughout the year.”
The only funding SVAC receives from the village and local taxes is the purchase of a new ambulance once every five years.
Everything else is made possible by the commitment of SVAC members and funded through community donations to make it work.
“The Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corp (SVAC) has been invaluable in supporting our public safety and well-being goals,” said Village Manager Rob Cole. “Not only has SVAC performed exceptionally in the provision of both emergency and nonemergency services during routine periods and in times of significant community need, including the COVID-19 pandemic, but they do so with no local government financial subsidy, apart from our commitment to support ambulance purchases. But for the generous donations from Scarsdale residents and others to support the SVAC mission and services, such community benefits would become a substantial burden on local taxpayers. The village extends deep appreciation to Mr. David Raizen and his team for helping to make Scarsdale a community where our residents, businesses and visitors can be comfortable knowing that our suite of emergency personnel, including SVAC, will be there in one’s time of need — under all circumstances. Please endeavor to support SVAC’s critical public safety mission this holiday season by continuing to give generously in support of their operation.”
To contribute to the SVAC fundraising drive, go to www.scarsdalevac.com.