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Distinguished director: Popovich named Instructor of the Year

| Monday, Sept. 23, 2002

PERRYOPOLIS - The Perryopolis Area Ambulance Service has a distinguished director. Mary Popovich of West Newton has been named 2002 Pennsylvania Higher Education Emergency Medical Services Instructor of the Year. The award was presented at the Pennsylvania Higher Education state conference this summer.

In addition to directing operations for the past year and a half, Popovich, an EMT, also teaches in the department of health science and sports studies at California University of Pennsylvania, where she is also an assistant athletic trainer. She also teaches continuing education classes at Perry Ambulance and at coal mines.

"I was surprised to hear I'd won. I couldn't believe it. I was on vacation in Hawaii during the conference, but Karen and Jerry (DeAngelis) accepted it for me," she says.

Karen DeAngelis is the volunteer office manager; her husband, Jerry DeAngelis, is a volunteer EMT and president of the ambulance board. They nominated Popovich.

"She deserved it," Jerry says. "As much as Mary does, she really deserved it. When she teaches, I don't fall asleep."

She is energetic and enthusiastic about her work, they say. "I've continued expanding my education." Popovich has been involved in emergency medical services since 1973. She started as a CPR instructor in 1976 and began teaching EMTs in 1979. She received her master's degree from California University of Pennsylvania in May.

"I still go out on runs and keep all my advanced certifications up to date," Popovich says. I love EMS and I love teaching. I understand both disciplines, athletic training and paramedic. I really like the teaching aspect. EMS has to go on. I want to become a mentor."

On the weekends, Popovich is a clown. "Sometimes the kids will tell me I look familiar. Sometimes I tell them I'm their professor and sometimes I don't."

She entered emergency medical services because of her sister. "She got hurt a long time ago. I rode in the ambulance and felt so helpless." Her sister survived.

Popovich mentors others because of her role model, Kenny Myers. "He was a wonderful EMS teacher. He had a meticulous style and kept pushing me to advance." Myers died recently and she drove the black-draped ambulance at his funeral.

She is a vital asset to the Perryopolis Area Ambulance Service, as are all its employees. According to Karen DeAngelis of Perryopolis, who has been involved with the 30-year-old service since 1997, the six paramedics and six EMTs are very good employees and very dedicated. "We couldn't ask for a better group," she says.

The service has two ambulances and one wheelchair van and serves all of Perryopolis, Perry Township, and parts of Belle Vernon, Banning, Dawson and Jefferson Township. The services averages 90 to 110 calls per month.

In 1997, scandal rocked the Perry Ambulance. A former board member and a former employee cashed in the service's certificates of deposit and bank accounts and turned the total, $153,000, over to Medicare, falsely claiming the money was paid to Perry Ambulance for services rendered but not medically necessary, Karen DeAngelis says.

The FBI examined all the service's records and found no fraud. All the money had been earned legitimately. "We were cleared by the FBI, but at a 2001 hearing, Medicare said we were only entitled to $16,000. A second hearing followed in February and we won," Karen DeAngelis said.

In late August, Medicare finally paid Perry Ambulance $121,000. "That was an accomplishment," says Jerry DeAngelis. "The end of a five-year battle with Medicare."

"What upsets me the most," says Karen DeAngelis, "is that those two people ruined the reputation of this service and you can't do anything to them."

Perry Ambulance continues its work, though on a very tight budget. The spring and summer membership drive resulted in 800 members out of 4,800 mailings. The cost of membership is $30 for a senior household and $40 for all others.

An ongoing fund drive will benefit all emergency service providers and even mail carriers. Perry Ambulance has metal reflective signs with the new county 911 address numbers for sale. The signs cost $15 or $20 installed.

Popovich says that the signs are necessary. "A lot of our employees come from out of town. If they can't find the houses, somebody's going to die someday."

To join the ambulance service or purchase a address sign, call 724-736-4022.

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