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Port Matilda EMS ‘Holding Off’ on Formal Closure Notification

A glimmer of hope remains for the future of Port Matilda EMS.

After informing the municipalities in its service area on Nov. 21 of its plans to cease operations because of a critical staffing shortage, the nonprofit agency says it is “holding off” on formally notifying the Seven Mountain EMS Council and the state health department of its intent to close.

EMS representatives have been meeting with municipal officials to discuss possible remedies to stave off closure, according to a post on the service’s Facebook page.

“We have had overwhelming feedback since our announcement a few days ago and have been meeting with local municipalities to try to come up with solutions to remain open,” the post stated. “For the time being, we are holding off on formal notification of our intent to close for a few weeks while we investigate all possible avenues.”

Port Matilda EMS serves Port Matilda Borough, Halfmoon, Huston, Taylor and Worth townships and parts of western Ferguson Township.

The agency reported that its closure was imminent after being consistently understaffed and the pending departure of two key employees at the end of the year, which would leave it with only two part-time staff members and one volunteer.

“That’s not enough to provide an adequate level of service to our community,” EMS representatives wrote in their initial announcement.

A shortage of trained EMS personnel and the inability to pay competitive wages and benefits based on the service’s income from insurance billing and memberships further exacerbated the crisis of an already dwindling staff.

Like many similar agencies throughout region and the nation that rely on only partial reimbursements from insurance and voluntary resident subscriptions, Port Matilda EMS has long struggled to maintain operations and recruit staff. While a new law requires insurance companies to pay for services even if a patient is not transported to the hospital, Medicare and Medicaid only cover a fraction of the cost of an EMS visit. Some insurance companies send the payment for the services directly to the patient.

As a result, EMS sometimes never sees that reimbursement. The company then must spend more money in an attempt to get those payments from the patients, through collections.

The National Rural Health Association warned in 2018 that one-third of all rural EMS agencies were in danger of shutting down.

“Your struggle to make ends meet can only stretch so far, the failure is not yours,” Scott Rhoat, Bellefonte EMS executive director, wrote in a reply to the agency’s initial closure announcement.

Port Matilda EMS said in late 2019 that was “in a critical situation,” and at the time only had enough funds to cover one more payroll cycle. It managed to survive that, and now, in an even more dire situation, it is hoping to pull through once again.

“We will continue to keep you informed with updates as they occur,” the agency’s most recent post concluded.

The Centre County Gazette’s Chris Morelli contributed to this report.