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CRS personnel to protest

want director to quit

January 16, 2002

CRS personnel to protest; want director to quit



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

Upset about possible layoffs and calling for the top administrator's resignation, volunteer and career staff at Community Rescue Service are planning a "peaceful protest" outside the ambulance company's board of directors meeting tonight.

Melanie G. Shank, a paid full-time medic at CRS and a protest organizer, said they also are protesting CRS Executive Director J. Michael Nye's unwillingness to hire an outside company to handle CRS billing.

Shank said she expects at least 25 people participate in the protest.

CRS faces financial problems because of an increased call load and because many of the people it treats are under-insured or have no insurance, are senior citizens with Medicare, or poor, said Nye.

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CRS, a private nonprofit ambulance company based on Eastern Boulevard in Hagerstown, serves most of the city and parts of the surrounding areas.

In August, the Hagerstown City Council agreed to give CRS $50,000, and asked the Washington County Board of Commissioners to match the donation.

The commissioners said they would consider the request if it received the endorsement of the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association.

An association steering committee met with CRS officials and agreed CRS needs to balance its budget, said committee member Joe Kroboth, director of Emergency Services for Washington County.

If CRS balanced its budget, the committee likely would endorse the request, Kroboth said.

CRS officials decided it would take $200,000 in labor cuts to balance the budget, Nye said.

Positions likely will have to be cut to save money, he said, adding that the CRS board will decide whether to cut paramedic or supervisory positions.

Shank said layoffs could hurt ambulance service, and she wants changes on the administrative side of the business.

There are other ways to improve the financial picture, including changing who does the billing, holding additional fund-raisers, and appealing again to the city and county, she said.

CRS Chief Chris Amos said budget woes have forced him to cancel CRS' Jan. 19 recognition dinner, which Amos had expected would be attended by about 200 people. A smaller, less elaborate dinner will be scheduled, he said.

Amos said he was aware of the planned protest but doesn't endorse it.

Shank said hiring an outside company to do CRS' billing might cost more, but that cost could be offset by increased income from bills due.

Nye said he has looked into hiring an outside company to take over CRS' billing operations. But he said doing so would only increase costs.

The problem is that CRS is billing people that don't pay all or part of the bills - and an outside company would run into the same problems, he said.

For example, in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2001, CRS sent out bills totaling almost $2.8 million and collected just over $1 million, Nye said.

Of those totals, Medicare and Medicaid were billed for about $1.2 million, and those federal programs paid about $340,000, he said.

Nye said there are federal limits on how much Medicare and Medicaid will pay for an ambulance run.

"I don't care who you are, you're not going to get more out of Medicare or Medicaid," he said.

Shank said they are calling for Nye's resignation, and asking that the chief of operations take over his duties.

That request is a "vote of no confidence" in Nye, she said.

Cutting Nye's position would save money, she said.

Nye, who is paid $52,000 a year by CRS, said he does not plan to resign.

"Where we are today shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. I've been saying it for two years," Nye said. "I'm just dealing with the situation. I don't run from fights."

Staff writer Dan Kulin contributed to this story.

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