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Penns Valley EMS Discusses Financial Woes

by and on November 04, 2017 5:00 AM

GREGG TOWNSHIP — Penns Valley Emergency Medical Service held a town hall meeting at its Ross Hill Road facility Oct. 26 to discuss the organization’s serious financial problems.

About 75 members of the Penns Valley community attended the meeting, including EMS board members and representatives of townships and boroughs in Penns Valley. Guests from the Centre County 911 system call center and the Bellefonte EMS also were present.

EMS chief Jason Brooks began the meeting with background information on the operation of the Penns Valley EMS system, noting that EMS units are highly regulated by the state of Pennsylvania.

“Everything from pagers being activated to how we drive the ambulances, how we travel with patients — everything that happens in there is regulated,” he said.

Local EMS services are activated by the 911 call center and are required by law to respond when summoned. Brooks said that the number of local EMS units in Pennsylvania is decreasing, and that volunteers are diminishing rapidly, since volunteers are required to undergo 200 hours of training at a cost to them of $1,000. He said paid staff members receive low wages of between $9 and $12 per hour.

Brooks said the Penns Valley EMS is a nonprofit basic life support ambulance company running one ambulance and staffed with two emergency medical technicians 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A larger group of EMTs is used when covering scheduled events such as Grange Fair, the Nittany Antique Machinery Association shows and Penns Valley High School athletics.

Brooks said income for the EMS service is generated only by the transport of patients. If a patient does not need to be hospitalized, or refuses transport, the EMS unit receives no money. He noted that even when transport occurs and patients are billed, their insurance companies pay only a portion of the bill, leaving the rest for the patient to pay, and collection of payment from patients is difficult or sometimes impossible to accomplish.

Brooks noted that Medicare and Medicaid programs typically pay substantially less than private insurance companies, and more than half of the patients transported are enrolled in these programs.

These factors, according to Brooks, lead to the bottom line — the Penns Valley EMS service is losing money at an alarming rate. Brooks projects that at the current rate of loss, the EMS service will be forced to close its doors sometime around July 2019.

Brooks believes there are three options of action the community can take.

One is to do nothing, which would force closure of the Penns Valley service. The community would then have to contract a neighboring region’s service, such as Pleasant Gap, State College, Milroy, Mifflinburg, or Flemington, to provide EMS service. This might be possible, but would increase response time for an emergency.

A second option is for all the Penns Valley municipalities to enact a 0.5-mill real estate tax, the maximum allowed, on their citizens. According to Brooks, this would eliminate the immediate shortfall, but would leave no room for future inflationary expense increases or expansion of the program.

Brooks said a third option is to merge the Penns Valley EMS with a neighboring region’s service if one of them will agree to it. This option has the advantage of reducing overhead costs by consolidating resources and increasing call volume, and Brooks feels that this option might be the best long-term solution financially. Disadvantages might be a loss of local control and possibly some local jobs, and some municipal funding may still be required.

Some actions, such as encouraging citizen donations and member subscriptions, applying for government grants, new debt collection strategies, cost reduction of medical supplies and no new hiring of full-time staff are already being enacted to cut costs and increase funding. Brooks noted that about 25 percent of the EMS unit’s funding come from member subscriptions, whose main benefit is that payments from member patients’ insurance are considered payment in full, regardless of the amount actually billed.

Following Brooks’ presentation, many questions from the audience were fielded by officials in attendance.


This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

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