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Local EMS Providers Recognized for Hard Work Amid Growing Challenges

by on May 23, 2019 5:00 AM

Emergency medical service providers, like their firefighting counterparts, continue to face a years-long struggle to secure sufficient funding and staffing.

At Tuesday's board meeting, Centre County commissioners discussed those challenges with several local emergency responders and honored them for their service to the community by proclaiming May 19-25 as Emergency Medical Services Week with the theme of "EMS Strong: Beyond the Call."

Centre County has eight ambulance services and four quick response services, with 416 certified providers. Last year they had 28,197 responses, including 15,689 for emergencies and 2,508 non-emergency transports, according to Rich Kelley, EMS supervisor at Mount Nittany Medical Center and vice president of the Centre County Ambulance Association.

"Every year the system seems to get a little bit busier," Kelley said. "All of our services back each other up and we certainly work very well. As the system continues to get busy and we continue to struggle with some manpower issues, we rely very heavily upon one another."

EMS companies, like volunteer fire companies, are challenged by funding and recruitment. Most local EMS companies have a mix of volunteer and paid staff, and Kelley said they struggle to find qualified applicants for professional positions as well as volunteers, with low starting pay for EMTs common across the country.

Reimbursements from insurance and Medicaid have remained stagnant and in some cases decreased, and agencies are only reimbursed for emergency transports. EMS companies partly rely on membership donations and fundraising, and sometimes receive financial support from municipalities. 

"One of the challenges we’ve seen over the last few years is the that when you guys roll out on a call and the individual on the receiving end of that call doesn't need your services, you’ve deployed a lot of resources and a lot of your time, but it doesn’t mean you get paid for your efforts," Commissioner Steve Dershem said. "I think we need to look at a more equitable way of funding you folks because there’s going to be so many times in the future when there’s going to be communities that don’t have EMS coverage, don’t have the opportunity to pick up the phone and have someone immediately there. It’s devastating for me to think that may be in the future for some of our areas."

EMS companies in Pennsylvania really only developed in a structured way in the late 1960s and early 1970s and Pleasant Gap Fire Company Chief Lou Brungard said they have been adaptive to changing times. But as health care changes at a rapid pace, funding and support haven't met the growing need for EMS.

Brungard urged residents to express support to legislators for the recommendations in Pennsylvania Senate Resolution 6, which suggests numerous changes for incentivizing participation in fire and EMS companies, increasing reimbursement and payment models and ensuring service through government partnerships.

"The biggest thing everybody can do is help lobby on our behalf and help in implementing some of those innovative strategies in SR 6," he said.

Kent Knable, of Centre LifeLink EMS, said one way citizens can help is by taking CPR and First Aid classes, which are offered on a monthly basis by each of the local agencies.

Debbie Smeal, of Medic 24 and a deputy coroner, said it's important to remember that people of all ages can play a role in their local EMS companies.

"The Baby Boomers are coming up through the ranks and you don’t have to drop out of EMS just because you become an age," she said. "With Medic 24 and all of these services, they would willingly accept more mature individuals, doing simple things like driving back a medic truck... or participating in the offices in different areas. It’s not necessarily you have to be young."

Kelley encouraged community members to contact their EMS agencies to learn about how they can help.

"If anybody is at all interested in helping out your local service, certainly reach out to your local fire or EMS service," Kelley said. "Also there’s some grants out there to help fund you becoming an EMT as well."

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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