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Plum EMS prepares to kick off 2014 subscription drive

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 9:48 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader
Elizabeth Harkay of Holiday Park is thankful for Plum EMS personnel for providing a lift assist when her brother, William Sundo, was brought home from the hospital recently. Elizabeth talks with Dave Bender and Dan Fitzhenry about the lift and how it is used.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader Elizabeth Harkay of Holiday Park is thankful for Plum EMS personnel for providing a lift assist when her brother, William Sundo, was brought home from the hospital recently. Elizabeth talks with Dave Bender and Dan Fitzhenry about the lift and how it is used.

December was a stressful month for Elizabeth Harkay and her family.

Harkay's brother, William Sundo, 60, on Dec. 16 underwent an amputation above the knee on his right leg.

Sundo on Dec. 31 was due to be released from UPMC Montefiore's rehabilitation unit in Pittsburgh to Harkay's home on Conneaut Drive in the Holiday Park section of Plum.

Harkay, 62, was worried about how she was going to get her brother into her home once he arrived.

“I called Plum EMS (Emergency Medical Services) taking a chance they would help,” said Harkay, who added she has subscribed to the borough ambulance service for about 20 years. “They used a chairlift to get my brother up to the living area. They went beyond my expectations.”

The lift assist, according to Plum EMS deputy director Bob Moran, is just one of the services the ambulance company performs each day.

But, Moran said, finances continue to be an issue, as the ambulance service kicks off its 2014 subscription drive at the end of the month.

“Seventy percent (of residents and businesses) do not subscribe,” Moran said. “That is a huge amount of money not collected.”

Plum EMS received 3,945 subscriptions in 2013, down from 3,997 in 2012, Moran said.

An annual subscription to Plum EMS costs $40. Moran said an average bill for a transport to a hospital is about $1,000 for nonsubscribers.

Moran said 2013 was a rough year financially for the ambulance service.

He said Plum EMS, with a $1.2 million annual budget that is funded through subscriptions, insurance reimbursements, donations and borough funding, was forced to “write off” or not receive payment from Medicare and Medicaid for nearly $800,000 in services. That means the two entities paid for a partial amount of what the EMS charged.

Plum EMS paramedics and emergency medical technicians answer nearly 3,000 calls a year, director Tom Izydore said.

Moran said the $800,000 outstanding amount means Plum EMS receives about $375 for every $1,000 charge to Medicare and Medicaid.

“We aren't allowed to bill for the balance,” he said. “That ($800,000) would pay off the building (planned for the borough site on Renton Road) in one year,” Moran said.

Moran also said that regardless of how many calls for service that Plum EMS answers, there is a cost to be prepared.

“There is a cost for readiness — for us waiting for something to happen,” Moran said. “It costs us to go out the door.”

Plum EMS last year used social media to get the word out to residents about the services paramedics and emergency medical technicians perform and to try to boost the number of subscriptions.

Moran this year plans to have yard signs available for subscribers. The sign will indicate the resident is a Plum EMS subscriber.

Moran said the answer to the funding problem is a public-safety fee that property owners could pay along with their water, sewage and trash bill.

Borough council members in the past have discussed a fee but have taken no action.

Harkay would support a fee or dedicated tax for the EMS.

“It is a shame people don't support it,” Harkay said. “I am doubling my donation this year.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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