Reamstown EMS seeks financial fix

By on March 27, 2019

Reamstown Fire Company Chief Scott Achey, painted a grim picture for the future of local emergency medical services during the March 21 meeting of the East Cocalico Township Board of Supervisors.

Achey said it is no longer cost effective to run EMS service out of Reamstown, which is the only fire department providing EMS in East Cocalico Township.

Reasons for the challenges to the once “lucrative” EMS services are multiple.

“That’s all changed,” he said. “It’s become a very tough business controlled by government entities, (and) insurance underwriters.”
Achey said the fire company wants to continue to offer the service but solutions must be found to make it cost effective.

Reamstown EMS is losing between $60,000 and $80,000 annually, he said.

The all-volunteer based EMS, which dates back about seven decades, is a thing of the past.

EMS has evolved into a “pre-hospital care system,” he said. As is the case almost universally, it is now staffed by paid EMTs and paramedics.

Volunteers of Reamstown EMS, which is the busiest EMS unit in the county, according to Achey, require 250 to 300 hours of annual training.

He said it’s impossible to find people who’ll dedicate that time and commitment anymore on a volunteer basis.

“It burns them out,” he said.

Reamstown EMS is averaging about 1,200 calls per year with “unfortunately no volunteer base left,” Achey said.

To keep costs down, Reamstown had used volunteer fire fighters as drivers in the past. But even drivers now are now required to be certified.

“We’ve now evolved up to four full-time; at least three part time, and then we also have some (EMTs) on per diem,” he said. “So just about all of our staff is paid now with virtually no volunteers and that is why we’ve come to East Cocalico (supervisors) for some kind of financial help.”

Achey said it’s not a Reamstown-specific or East Cocalico-specific problem — “it’s nationwide, it’s statewide.”

Committees have been formed on both the federal and state level to look for funding solutions for EMS systems moving forward.
East Cocalico Board of Supervisors funded $96,000 for Reamstown Fire Co. in the 2019 budget. That funding — above the $25,000 budgeted by East Cocalico each for Smokestown, Stevens, and Reamstown fire companies — is specifically for Reamstown EMS.

The extra funding goes “100 percent” to EMS, Achey said, and without it, the ambulance service “would go away by the end of 2019.”

Supervisors agreed with Achey’s assertion that each municipality has the responsibility to make sure EMS/ambulance services are available. All three supervisors — Alan Fry, Romao Carrasco, and Doug Mackley — offered personal commitments to back and support funding for Reamstown EMS.

Achey asked the board for ideas to help ever-increasing EMS costs and said it’s likely to “see a ton of mergers” among area EMS providers.

“Most of the other small EMS services around here will be in the same shape we are in in the next five years,” he said.
Besides the evaporation of volunteers and the move to paid personnel, annual EMS losses result from insufficient reimbursement rates from insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid.

“We might bill $600 for a call,” though a third-party billing service, Achey said. “But there’s this glitch in the system that says they (Medicare and Medicaid) only have to pay a percentage.”

That percentage is often paid at only about 50 percent of the cost.
In other news, the township manager, Scott Russell, provided a glimpse of a new East Cocalico Township website that could be online within a few weeks.

Patrick Burns is news editor for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 717-721-4455.

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