Grove City town hall discusses solutions to growing EMS crisis
It's an issue that's facing the nation and also making an impact in our region that 21 News brought to you in a recent Watchdog report.
A town hall took place Wednesday in Mercer County aimed to educate the public on what some are calling an EMS crisis.
From dwindling resources and staffing to declining revenues, EMS officials are now looking for potential solutions which in turn keep our communities safe.
"We can walk into a situation and within 3 seconds we can tell you if there's a problem or not," said Doug Dick, Chief of Superior Ambulance Services to the crowd Wednesday. "We can tell you there's a problem right now in the EMS system."
An EMS task force, which Dick is the leader of, was developed to improve services in North Western Pennsylvania and continues to alert the public about local and national concerns.
"Everybody's worn out," explained Dick. "The pandemic escalated things. The cost went up to do business, to provide service and manpower went down."
EMS officials said operational costs, weak insurance reimbursements, lack of financial support from communities and declining resources are making these companies suffer. David Basnak, President & Executive Director of EmergyCare Ambulance said the limited number of EMS providers sparks the biggest concern. This task force continues to encourage local municipalities for financial assistance.
"It's a real struggle to find EMS workers to work," Basnak said. "Part of that is the wage discrepancy which is tied to the reimbursement and how we see EMS is funded."
It's not rare for local governments to help emergency services but that does not ensure money for EMS specifically.
"Some townships in our county's and our borough's are doing that, they're just starting," explained Ed Heasley, Clarion County Commissioner. "Trying to express the concern about how townships need to step up to help fund the programs."
Heasley agrees local municipalities need to financially assist struggling EMS companies. "You can have all the fancy equipment and all the communications and radios but it doesn't do any good if a 911 dispatcher doesn't have a crew to send to your house. This endangers the life of the public and our residents."
Long-term funding solutions the task force pitched included cell phone fees, vehicle registration plate fees, a 1% sales tax on taxable items, or a 1 mill property tax on 22 municipalities.
"The funding has to come from a multi-facet approach," Basnak added. "There are many options out there and the strain of this really goes on to the local municipalities. We need this addressed soon."
"I hope everybody gets educated, has some questions, and can go back to their elected officials and ask them questions," Dick added.
Presenters at Wednesday's town hall reminded the crowd that constituents need to speak up more about the EMS crisis in order to prove these companies aren't asking for "a handout."
"The crisis has never been like this before," Basnak added. "There is clear documentation dating back to the 60s that insurance reimbursements alone can't fund EMS and there has to be local support from municipalities."
The town hall came with growing concern that if something isn't done, some areas might not even offer ambulance services.