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Delays in Pa. Ambulance Service Caused by Squad Closings

QUAKERTOWN, Pa. -- Ambulance service in the Quakertown (Pa.) area has suffered delays because of the shuttering of two separate emergency squads to the south, officials said on Monday.

St. Luke's Emergency and Transport Services, which serves Upper Bucks, has been helping to fill the gap created when ambulance companies in Dublin and the Pennridge area closed their doors last year.

Calls for service in those areas can tie up St. Luke's ambulances, at times causing delays of two to three minutes in the communities the squad traditionally covers, said Kermit Gorr, the executive director of the hospital's ambulance service.

"The residents of Quakertown or Richland Township may have to wait for service because our paramedics are out responding to calls somewhere else," Gorr told supervisors in Richland during a yearly briefing on the squad.

"When we go to cover down in Sellersville or Perkasie, then a mutual aid organization has to cover for us," he said.

Gorr estimated such delays occur about once a month. To help meet the additional demands, he said he has put another advanced life-support ambulance in service and has changed working shifts to accommodate high-volume times.

That was the bad news. The good: response times average 7.5 minutes, compared with a national average of 9 minutes, Gorr said.

But the presentation offered a peek into the impact that failing companies have not just on their own communities, but on the region as a whole.

The Dublin and Pennridge companies' closure were the latest casualties in what used to be all-volunteer efforts. Others are struggling with their finances amid rising costs and falling donations and insurance reimbursements.

Richland Police Chief Larry Cerami said the plight of neighboring companies has been felt by his department.

"There is a difference when you guys are out backfilling for someone else and we have to wait for another squad to come," Cerami told Gorr.

In coming before the board, Gorr asked for help promoting fundraising for St. Luke's ambulance service. He also requested that Richland designate his squad the primary provider for the community.

But he did not ask for any local taxpayer funding, as other companies such as Central Bucks Ambulance and Rescue Unit have, with mixed success.

St. Luke's squad does run in the red. Last year, it lost $468,000. This year, it projects that it will lose more than $200,000.

But the St. Luke's Hospital & Health Network has the resources and desire to sustain the company, Gorr said. "The hospital is committed to providing the service that needs to be provided," he said.

St. Luke's squad has already appeared before other communities it serves to brief them on its finances. Last month, officials told Coaldale the company has lost $130,000 providing service to the Schuylkill County borough, where it has been the designated provider since October.

In Trumbauersville, St. Luke's appeared before council earlier this month. Officials in the borough said they left the meeting confident that the squad is in better financial health than other ambulance companies.

"They seem to be fairly stable, and the fact that they're hospital-based gives them some financial cushion," said Ed Child, the president of Borough Council.

riley.yates@mcall.com

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