Mutual Aid Ambulance Named Mt. Pleasant Township (PA) EMS Provider

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Deb Erdley

Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.

(MCT)

Repeating a scene that has become more common in recent years, another municipality — Mt. Pleasant Township — is turning to Mutual Aid Ambulance Service to provide coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Township supervisors last week unanimously approved a resolution that calls for Greensburg-based Mutual Aid to provide emergency medical services across the sprawling rural community in eastern Westmoreland County beginning Sept. 25.

The agreement calls for Mutual Aid to staff an Advanced Life Support ambulance in the Norvelt area around the clock.

The move comes as municipal officials, who are responsible for emergency services, grapple with the decline of the volunteer fire services and the community-based ambulance services often launched by volunteer fire companies decades ago.

“Simply put, EMS is woefully lacking in funding, and the number of volunteer firefighters has fallen dramatically over the decades,” according to a 39-member commission convened by the General Assembly in 2018.

Since that time, a growing number of communities looked to agencies like Mutual Aid, a large, well-staffed regional nonprofit that now provides services to about 200,000 people.

The regional service will work with the township’s remaining local providers, and calls for aid will continue to be routed though Westmoreland 911.

“Mutual Aid will continue to partner and expand relationships with Kecksburg Rescue Squad and Mt. Pleasant Medic 10,” Mutual Aid spokesman Lorenzo Garino said.

He said Mutual Aid will honor ambulance memberships purchased by township residents from Mt. Pleasant Medic 10, Kecksburg Rescue Squad and Norvelt EMS.

“We are pleased to be able to provide the residents of Mt. Pleasant Township access to the highest quality medical coverage in their community. By partnering together and further regionalizing our response, this will also help ensure that neighboring communities benefit from the additional resources in this area,” Garino said.

Mt. Pleasant Township is the eighth municipality in the past five years to sign on with Mutual Aid. The nonprofit ambulance company, founded in Greensburg in 1968, covers 47 municipalities in Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.

In April, the agency took over the service area formerly served by Adamsburg Rescue 14 when the EMS service that covered Adamsburg and Arona opted to shutter operations after struggling with recruitment and retention issues, decreasing insurance reimbursements and declining community subscriptions.

That move followed a decision by Hempfield supervisors in January to designate Mutual Aid as the primary EMS agency for a portion of the township previously covered by Jeannette EMS.

Jerry Ozog, director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute, said such arrangements — municipalities opting to designate large regional ambulance companies as their primary providers — are becoming more common in communities where the population is aging and overall population numbers are declining.

“That has a direct impact on EMS and volunteer fire services. It’s a physically demanding thing to run into a burning building or carry a stretcher down three flights of stairs,” Ozog said.

Many of the small community services that once relied on volunteers have paid staff, but experts say they operate on a very thin margin and often face issues with recruitment and retention.

And even communities that are able to maintain local ambulance companies often find that EMS units are reaching out to municipal governments to help fill financial gaps between the reimbursements insurers are willing to pay and the cost of maintaining services.

“In the 1980s, between billings and volunteers there was enough money to pay for staff and ambulances. That’s no longer the case. There have been attempts at the federal and state level to increase reimbursements for ambulance services, but the insurance lobby is very powerful. It’s like rolling a rock uphill,” Ozog said.

He said the institute will be convening a series of three town hall meetings across the state this fall to collect input from residents and first responders about the issues they face.

One of those town halls has been scheduled for Sept. 28 in Greensburg, with time and place to be announced.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, derdley@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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