Ten years ago, if you had told Lance Ronas that he would be one day be called a “community hero” for his work to create the Indian River Ambulance Service, he would not have believed you.
That’s because, in 2007, when Mr. Ronas first pitched the idea to merge ambulance services from the towns of Theresa, Antwerp, and Philadelphia, he did not receive a warm reception from volunteers or community members. When most people heard the idea, he said, they thought he was trying to steal their ambulances or charge them extra money.
“I was called deceitful, a thief, and a shyster,” he said. “People don’t like change.”
However, because of his foresight, perseverance, and dedication to bettering the health of his community, Mr. Ronas now has been recognized as a hero. He is one of three individuals in Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties to receive the 2017 Community Health Hero Award, which is given in honor of National Rural Health Day – celebrated across the country on November 16th.
The Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization and North Country Health Compass Partners, who sponsored the award, accepted nominations from the community for individuals who exemplified “outstanding public service toward the improvement of community health and wellness.”
In addition to Mr. Ronas, who now serves as CEO and director of Indian River Ambulance Service, Dan Myers, founder of Double Play Community Center, was chosen in Lewis County, and Dr. Mark Franke, a “dentist whisperer” for patients with special needs, was chosen in St. Lawrence County.
Mr. Ronas, who has been a paramedic for nearly a decade and an EMT for more than 25 years, said the idea to merge emergency medical services was always about improving care for residents of the three-town Indian River community. He became driven to make the merger happen after witnessing his mother suffer while waiting for an ambulance to respond to her home in February 2007.
“My mom had a heart attack and her ambulance didn’t show up for at least 20 minutes,” he said. “I saw that we needed to take our level of care up a notch.”
And so began many months of planning, paperwork, public meetings, and trying to convince his colleagues and neighbors that joining forces to create the Indian River Ambulance Service would benefit everyone in the community. With the help of his good friend and colleague Kelly Morgan – and a few other supporters – Mr. Ronas did these things for free, and on top of work and volunteering commitments.
The Indian River Ambulance Service was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in June 2010. It now has 42 providers – including 11 paramedics – who provide 24/7 emergency medical services to the three towns and beyond. It also serves as a training and education hub for community members who want to become EMTs.
“When we founded this place, it was to be an educational epicenter,” Mr. Ronas said. “We needed to train EMTs, and today, if you ask agencies around us, they’ll say that they’re getting membership from here.”
The ambulance service also offers CPR courses for members of the public, allows community members to drop in and have their blood pressure taken, and provides other services to help build and maintain community health and wellness.
Though the community was apprehensive at first, Mr. Ronas said most residents are now thankful for the collaborative ambulance service – and he gives them all the credit for its success.
“If we are successful, it’s for the buy-in – not only by community leadership, but by the community at large,” he said. “I might be the ring leader, but our logo shows two hands coming together, and that is what we are all about.”