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Penn. legislators should heed warnings, give local ambulance companies CPR

ALLENTOWN, Penn. Within the space of three months this spring, several nonprofit ambulance organizations throughout the region revealed a serious need for financial resuscitation. In March, Perkasie Community Ambulance in Bucks County shut down when its financial and management problems proved insurmountable.

Also in March, Jim Thorpe Emergency Medical Service in Carbon County consolidated with nearby Lehighton Ambulance after a period of difficulty in raising money and recruiting volunteers. Supervisors in Upper Saucon Township announced plans to merge ambulance services in Upper Saucon, Lower Milford and Coopersburg to reduce costs.

In April, the Williams Township Emergency Squad in Northampton County announced it will close by June 30, due to a lack of volunteers. Then this month, the Dublin Regional EMS in Upper Bucks closed for financial reasons not long after it was evicted from its headquarters. A chart published with a story Monday cited a number of other ambulance companies throughout this region that have dealt with financial problems and insufficient volunteer recruitments dating to 2001.

Momentum is growing for changes in the way emergency services are funded in this state -- so much so, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Bucks, plans a hearing tomorrow at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown Township. Many people don't understand that the closest ambulance services to their homes aren't affiliated with local fire departments. Municipalities spend a considerable amount of money on fire and police departments, but state laws don't require them to provide funds for ambulance crews.

The amount of work they do, however, is tremendous. There are nearly 1,000 licensed organizations that treat 1.6 million patients annually. But closings and mergers obviously would mean longer response times, and worse.

How long would it take an ambulance to reach your home? With each passing year, the answer to that question could be more troublesome as financial woes leave more ambulance services with no other options than to close or merge, if they are to stay in operation.

In 2004, a state Senate Commission called for a change in the state borough and municipal codes and Pennsylvania manual so that "emergency medical services" would become part of a list of services that municipalities are required to provide.

The Legislature needs to address the issues that have an impact on emergency services. For example, medical insurance reimbursement checks are sent to patients, who then are supposed to forward the money to the ambulance squads. It is easy to see why ambulance services would prefer a law requiring insurance companies to send reimbursements directly to ambulance companies. It's long past time to give ambulance crews CPR.

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