Avonmore ambulance company on life support
By Liz Hayes
Published: Friday, June 29, 2012, 7:58 p.m.
Updated: Saturday, June 30, 2012
Avonmore Life Savers ambulance company has found a life it cannot save: its own.
After 42 years of providing emergency medical services in and around Avonmore, the company plans to close its doors next month, according to Russell Reynolds, president of the company's board.
"July 14 at 10 p.m. will be the end of operations," Reynolds confirmed.
The company's problems boil down to money, Reynolds said.
"Insurance companies are only paying 33 to 50 percent of the bills," Reynolds said. "You can't operate on that."
Ambulance companies throughout the region have bemoaned the reimbursements they receive from insurers, which often are significantly less than the companies' actual costs.
"We don't get enough to make the payroll, let alone cover the taxes and everything else," Reynolds said.
The private company has a paid staff of about 10 full- and part-time employees. Reynolds said the annual budget is about $200,000.
"We've been having trouble," Reynolds said. "We got through 2011 by the skin of our teeth."
Reynolds said reimbursements from insurance companies and fundraisers are Avonmore Life Savers' only sources of income. He said they receive no tax money from Avonmore or Bell Township, the two municipalities the company serves.
Reynolds, who's been on the board for 14 years and helped Life Savers reopen following financial trouble a decade ago, voiced disappointment in the lack of community support.
He said the company hosted a public meeting two weeks ago, hoping to pull together the community and find a way to keep operating. Reynolds said only three people showed up.
"It's heartbreaking for me," Reynolds said. "I put a tough 10 years in, trying to help. It's very discouraging when you get no help from the public."
Avonmore Mayor Aileen Reid said she and many people in town did not know the meeting was being held.
"It would've been much more effective if he would've utilized the media and he would've publicized," she said. "The primary lack of participation from citizens was ignorance. They were not knowledgeable that the meeting was occurring, myself included."
The company has another public meeting planned for Monday -- this time to go over the details of its impending closure.
How the void will be filled
Reynolds said letters announcing the closure were sent this week to local officials, Westmoreland County's Department of Public Safety and the two ambulance companies that serve Avonmore and Bell when Life Savers is unavailable or needs backup: Lifestat in Saltsburg and Oklahoma EMS.
Dan Stevens, public information officer for Westmoreland County's emergency management, on Thursday said he had not yet received official notification from Avonmore Life Savers.
Stevens said it won't be a problem for 911 dispatchers to send Lifestat or Oklahoma ambulances in place of Life Savers. He estimated both companies are within four miles of Life Savers' territory.
"Residents of Avonmore and Bell have nothing to worry about," Stevens said. "Patient care won't be compromised."
Stevens said it will be up to each municipality to appoint a new service provider.
Reid said she believes Life Savers can remain open, and is calling on the company, borough and community to work together to do that.
"It could mean saving the lives of our loved ones," she said. "With Avonmore Life Savers being staffed 24 hours, I am certain many lives were saved in our community because they have the quickness to get out the door in a few seconds and to the location within minutes."
Reid also called on politicians to help with getting grants and low-interest loans, which she said the ambulance company, along with police and fire departments, are not able to qualify for.
Reynolds, 71, said he's disappointed but confident he and the board did the best they could.
"I'm dedicated to that place. It's something to me that's very, very important," Reynolds said. "We've fought a hard fight. We can stand tall."
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