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Pennsylvania Communities Mull Decision over ALS Providers

Lancaster EMS and Susquehanna Valley EMS have different views on how best to serve the southern end of the county. The two advance life support services approach the problem of serving the mostly rural area differently.

"We don't feel there's call volume for two ALS units down here," Mike Fitzgibbons from Susquehanna Valley told borough and township officials at the April 16 South End Intermunicipal Council meeting.

The group of southern end municipalities has been looking at the issue of how ambulance coverage is distributed in the region, and what would best serve the residents. In March, the group heard from LEMSA, but it wanted to hear Susquehanna Valley's side of the story as well.

Susquehanna Valley has a station in Quarryville, which offers ALS-level service weekdays during daylight hours only. LEMSA operates a station in New Providence on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis, plus it has a part-time presence in Bart Township with the Christiana Ambulance's satellite station.

LEMSA has offered to move to Quarryville with around-the-clock ALS service, and then add a second full-time station somewhere in the area of The Buck.

"The 911 Center says the area is underserved, I say it's underserved. We think we can improve the care down here," LEMSA executive director Robert May said.

One statistic sets a maximum response time of 8 minutes 59 seconds as the goal to reach in a true emergency call, such as a heart attack. Maps compiled by the county show that there are large areas of the southern end where that target is being met only a small fraction of the time.

The call volume in the area can be sporadic, Rick Harrison, operations manager at Lancaster County 911. When calls come in clusters and only one ALS is active, it may be occupied for an hour and a half or two hours to take a patient to Lancaster and return to base, he said.

Calls are ranked 1, 2, and 3, depending on severity, and ALS units are always dispatched to rank 1 calls. Rank 2 and 3 may be handled by basic life support units, such as Wakefield Ambulance. ALS calls are dispatched based on the available unit closest to the call, but Basic Life Support service calls may go to either type of unit, depending on availability. Wakefield works with Susquehanna Valley and has a joint billing agreement with the agency, but it does not have an agreement with LEMSA.

May discredits rumors that LEMSA is not willing to work with Wakefield.

"I am willing, if it's a traditional joint billing arrangement, to do joint billing," May said.

Area supervisors in Fulton and Colerain townships have passed motions in support of Susquehanna Valley. One factor they have discussed in making their decisions is the desire to keep Wakefield Ambulance viable.

Working out an answer for the region is not coming easily to the Intermunicipal Council.

"It's really complicated. It seems to me ... we need to get all parties who provide EMS service of any kind in the same room and have them hammer something out even if it takes 10 meetings," Bart Township Supervisor Calvin Keene said.

Keene was named to be one of the members of a committee that will do just that, then make a recommendation to the council.

LEMSA's May encouraged the group to select his agency.

"I don't know why this is a tough decision," May said. "I'm offering you more than you have now."

The Intermunicipal Council's committee will meet on Tuesday, April 30, to talk more about the issue, which will likely be discussed again at the full group's next meeting on May 21.



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