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Ambulance fundraiser fliers sent beyond Verona borders

| Friday, May 30, 2014, 3:18 p.m.

Penn Hills EMS Supervisor Diane Fitzhenry wants Penn Hills residents to know they already pay for an ambulance service with their taxes, and don't need to contribute to a private company serving the adjacent town.

Fitzhenry sent out an email alert to residents on May 28 regarding solicitation for contributions by Guardian Angel Ambulance Services, a privately owned, for-profit service based in West Mifflin.

“They're certainly entitled to do this,” Fitzhenry said. “It's free enterprise. It's just very misleading, because they're soliciting people who already have a designated ambulance service.”

The municipality has funded equipment and costs for Penn Hills EMS for four decades, she said.

Guardian Angel does contract with Verona Borough for ambulance service, and its operations manager, Mark Capozzi, said the solicitation was a mistake related to the way post-office distribution takes place.

“Ever since we've had Verona, we've sent out these letters for Verona residents,” Capozzi said. “So every year when we send these out, they go to the zip code that covers Verona (15147).”

However, according to the way the post office distributes mail, “Verona” also includes most of Penn Hills north of Saltsburg Road. Capozzi said the printing company which agreed to mail the solicitation fliers sent it to all of the 15147 zip code, “which unfortunately crossed over into Penn Hills,” he said.

Capozzi said he called Fitzhenry to explain what happened.

“Some of the letters go outside Verona proper,” he said. “It has never been a problem until this year, when a (letter recipient) found it to be offensive and made a huge deal about it, not only on Facebook but other social-media sites.”

The mailings also have affected Plum. The East Oakmont section of the borough is in the 15147 zip code.

Bob Moran, deputy director of Plum Emergency Medical Services, the ambulance company that serves Plum Borough, said some residents in the East Oakmont section received Guardian Angel subscription letter requests.

“There is no reason to send money to Guardian Angel if we are your provider,” Moran said. “When you call 911, you will get Plum EMS.”

A subscription to Plum EMS is $40 a year.

In light of the mix-up, Moran said he contacted Longwood at Oakmont, a retirement community on Route 909 that is in the 15147 zip code area, to inform officials about the potential for residents to receive the Guardian Angel subscription letters.

Guardian Angel responds to about 350 calls per year in Verona, according to borough manager Bonnie Conway. The service keeps one or two ambulances in the area on a regular basis to answer calls.

Not everyone is clear on the distinction between the services, however.

Fitzhenry said Penn Hills emergency responders brought a patient to the hospital on May 28, and the patient was confused when Guardian Angel did not show up.

“She had answered the flier and sent them a check,” Fitzhenry said. “But when she calls 911, she's never going to get a Guardian Angel ambulance. We're the designated service.”

Capozzi said that is not necessarily the case.

“Being that we're part of 911, it's not that far-fetched that if there's a call that someone's having a cardiac event in Penn Hills, and they know we're closest to the call, they're going to dispatch us,” he said.

“The whole thing about the solicitation was not to take money or calls from Penn Hills. We're no different than any other service. We're looking to ask our residents of Verona if they're inclined to support Guardian Angel.”

Fitzhenry said she simply feels obligated to let her residents know: they don't need to answer the letters.

“(Guardian Angel) certainly has the right to do whatever they want,” she said. “My ultimate concern is protecting the residents in the community that I serve.”

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com. Staff writer Karen Zapf contributed to this story.

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