The Meadville Tribune, Pa.
The statewide shortage of emergency medical workers and Meadville’s search for new revenue converged last week in the form of an agreement between the city and the city’s only ambulance company.
The agreement approved unanimously by members of Meadville City Council will allow Meadville Central Fire Department personnel to drive Meadville Area Ambulance Service (MAAS) vehicles from response scenes in the city to the hospital under certain circumstances when short staffing would otherwise force MAAS to wait for the arrival of personnel from elsewhere in the county. The ambulance service will pay the city $50 for each occasion.
Interim City Manager Gary Johnson said the arrangement benefits all parties involved.
“It’s some income,” he told council. “We’d be paid a little bit, but it also helps with getting people to the hospital quicker, of course, which is always a good thing.”
The ambulance service’s owner, Eric Henry, attended the meeting in his role as chairman of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners to hear a presentation on the feasibility of eliminating city police dispatch and allowing Crawford County Public Safety to assume those responsibilities.
During discussion of the agreement between the city and his ambulance company, Henry provided context to explain why there is a need to allow firefighters to drive ambulances. A shortage of emergency medical services personnel has left much of the county underserved, according to Henry.
A few years ago there were volunteer ambulance services in Cambridge Springs and Cochranton and two 24-hour ambulances were kept staffed at Conneaut Lake, Henry said.
In 2015, however, Cochranton Ambulance Service stopped transporting patients. Cambridge Area Volunteer Ambulance Service closed its doors for good on Jan. 1, 2018.
Henry said that today only one 24-hour ambulance is available at Conneaut Lake.
When Conneaut Lake Area Ambulance Service takes a call, he continued, that leaves his Meadville-based service covering an area that stretches from the state line to Townville — 39 municipalities, including two in Mercer County, containing about 67,000 people.
In situations when only one MAAS staff member is available for a response, the available employee could drive the ambulance to the scene and attend to the patient. The staff member could not drive the ambulance from the scene, however, because no additional staff member would be available to attend to the patient. An emergency medical technician is required to attend directly to a patient while the person is being transported, according to Henry.
While no MAAS staff member would be available, qualified drivers of emergency vehicles would be present: Though it does not transport patients, Meadville Central responds immediately to emergency medical calls in the city with its quick response service.
The agreement with the ambulance service means that rather than have the ambulance wait to transport a patient in the city until an additional MAAS staff member arrives, a firefighter who is already on the scene can drive the ambulance while the MAAS staff member attends to the patient.
The rest of the fire crew present would follow to the hospital to pick up the driver, according to Henry.
“I think it’s a great win for both of us,” he said.
In situations when only one MAAS staff member is available for a response, Henry said, the ambulance would have to wait at the scene until assistance could come from Conneaut Lake or Townville to drive the vehicle to Meadville Medical Center.
Under the new agreement, “your firefighter comes along with my employee, and we pay you to drive to the hospital,” Henry said. “I thought it was a good way to use both personnel without having to wait and delay the ambulance for care from a long way away and get the city person to the hospital fairly quickly.”
As council searches for additional revenue and cost-cutting opportunities in anticipation of a 2022 budget deficit expected to approach $650,000, the fees earned from occasional ambulance driving are not likely to have much of an impact. But, Councilwoman Autumn Vogel noted, the agreement is consistent with a recent recommendation from financial consultants who examined the city’s finances. The report, which council formally acknowledged later in the meeting, urged the city to seek a revenue-sharing arrangement with MAAS.
Johnson agreed, saying, “It’s definitely a foot in the door, I will say that much.”
Similarly, he added, council will soon vote on service agreements with Hayfield Township and Linesville Borough that will allow city code enforcement personnel to enforce those municipalities’ property maintenance laws. In return, the two municipalities will pay the city $30 per hour for city employee time spent on enforcement.
“It’s an effort to work with other communities and agencies when there’s a need,” Johnson said, “while also helping our bottom line a little bit as well.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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