Ross officials seeking remedy for emergency medical service’s ailing finances
The employees who work for Ross/West View EMS have made it their life’s work to help people in need of medical treatment.
But now the emergency medical service that answers calls in five North Hills communities is the one that’s ailing.
Ross/West View EMS officials asked Ross Township commissioners on Sept. 3 to follow a recommendation that the township and the other participating communities significantly increase their annual contribution to the emergency medical service.
The emergency medical service was created through a merger between Ross and West View in 1978. Reserve Township and Millvale were added in 1995 and Ohio Township joined in 2002, according to Bryan Kircher, executive director of Ross/West View EMS.
The service uses a formula based on the number of calls to which it responds each year to determine the amount of funding each of the five communities kick in.
The current contribution from the five communities is divided by call volume to arrive at an annual total payment of about $100,000.
Of that amount, Ross’ contribution for 2019 is $62,000 — the largest among the five municipalities — and corresponds to the anticipated calls for service expected in the township this year.
The proposed hike calls for increasing the total contribution in 2020 from the five communities to a little less than $333,000.
If approved, Ross’ share would jump from the current $62,000 payment to $210,263 next year, an increase of 239.1 percent over this year.
The other four communities served by the medical service already have agreed to increase their contributions by the prescribed amount.
Kirchner said other options for funding such as charging a fee for the services provided or instituting a mandatory subscription program were considered and rejected by a working group made up of representatives from the five municipalities and a private consultant that was assembled in 2010 to address the funding problem.
“It was the agreement of all the municipalities that we would continue with the municipal contribution and that they would increase that contribution based on the financial plan that we presented,” Kircher said. “Short of increasing that funding or doing some other funding mechanism, we really don’t have any place to turn.”
Kircher noted that the bulk of Ross/West View EMS’ funding comes from reimbursements from health insurance.
But the amount that it receives has steadily decreased, he said.
“Health-care billing was good in the 1980s and ’90s,” he said. “But those reimbursements are continuing to dwindle.”
Greg Porter, the service’s assistant director, noted that about 25 percent of the calls Ross/West View EMS responds to result in “little or no payment” because patients declined to be transported to a hospital for treatment.
Kircher said the lack of funding has made it difficult for Ross/West View EMS to attract employees because the starting pay is not competitive.
He noted that Ross/West View’s starting pay is $14 an hour for emergency medical technicians and $16.50 for paramedics.
By comparison, the starting wage for a City of Pittsburgh EMT is $17 an hour and $24 for paramedics, he said.
Ross/West View EMS has 30 full-time and 25 part-time employees.
Funding shortfalls also forced the service to scale back spending on equipment.
The medical service has increased the amount of time vehicles remain in service before they are replaced from five years to 10 years, Porter said.
He also noted that the equipment and training needed to provide an ever-expanding array of emergency services also drives the need for more money.
“We’re no longer just a point A to point B ambulance service,” he said.
Commissioner Dan DeMarco said one of the long-term solutions for the lack of funding could be found in the consolidation of medical services to reduce duplication of administrative services.
”While I don’t think we will ever achieve it (consolidation) countywide, a more regional consolidation might be possible,” he said.
DeMarco said while increasing the annual contribution from municipalities would address the problem in the short term, now might be the time to explore ways to create a dedicated source for funding.
“We can’t continue to be scared of the fact that we need more funding for our emergency services,” he said. “We can continue to beat our heads against the wall when it comes to sending these solicitations out telling residents we need money. But we know that only 21 percent hear it and the rest don’t.”
DeMarco’s comments were in reference to information provided to the township that only about 21 percent of residents who receive solicitations for the service’s subscription program participate.
The program provides unlimited use of the emergency services for an annual payment of $48 for individuals and $78 for families.
Kircher noted that of the 2,300 businesses that are solicited, only 7 percent participate, Kirchner said.
The commissioners did not set a date for when the board would vote on the medical services request for additional funding.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, [email protected] or via Twitter .