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CRS may cut more

Executive Director J. Michael Nye said the emergency service provider might have to cut services if it doesn't receive more fina

Executive Director J. Michael Nye said the emergency service provider might have to cut services if it doesn't receive more fina

June 27, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Community Rescue Service's executive director said Wednesday he felt the Washington County Commissioners short-changed the company Tuesday by distributing a $224,748 state grant equally among the county's 27 fire and rescue companies.

J. Michael Nye said CRS, which is the most active emergency service provider in the county, might have to cut services if it doesn't receive more financial support from the county commissioners.

"If we don't get the support we need ... the only option we have is to reduce labor," Nye said.

"It doesn't take a lot to help us," he said. "What do you want the system to do? Collapse?"

The commissioners voted Tuesday to give each of the 27 companies $8,324 in state grant money.

Joe Kroboth, the county's director of emergency services, said Wednesday the county has distributed the funds that way for years.

"It would have created more controversy and disappointment amongst the other fire and ambulance companies if the commissioners changed the funding procedure," Kroboth said.

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Kroboth and County Commissioner John Schnebly said the county will evaluate different methods of distributing the state funds next year.

Nye said that because CRS responds to many of the calls in the county, it should have received the bulk of the funds. He said that in 2001, CRS responded to nearly 7,000 calls, or about 52 percent of the 14,425 ambulance calls in the county last year.

The second most active company was Williamsport EMS with 1,541 calls, followed by Halfway EMS with 1,515 calls, Boonsboro EMS with 1,256, and Hancock EMS with 986.

Smithsburg EMS went on 897 calls, Clear Spring EMS had 794 calls and Sharpsburg EMS ran on 535 calls.

If the state grant money had been distributed based on workload, CRS should have received $73,285, Nye said.

"We're doing the bulk of that work, and we're getting exactly the same as everyone else," he said. "It's crazy."

Nye said if CRS doesn't receive more financial help soon, it might have to take cost-cutting measures that include having just one ambulance on duty in Hagerstown, forcing other companies from farther away to respond to calls.

It's not uncommon now for CRS to have several ambulances staffed and out on two or three calls at the same time, Nye said.

He said the company is understaffed, resulting in missed or delayed calls, and that CRS can't afford to hire additional people.

The company laid off five ambulance staffers in January because of financial constraints, and Nye said the 2002 budget doesn't include replacing them.

Most of the company's revenues come from billing patients, and the rest come from contributions, subscriptions to the company and local government, Nye said.

The commissioners gave CRS about $130,000 for the current fiscal year, a county official has said.

Nye said funding for ambulance companies should be a priority for local government the way it is for police and fire departments.

"The only thing that's left out is EMS services," he said.

Nye said the county makes CRS fight for funding, which is the current situation over a $50,000 grant that the organization was counting on for fiscal year 2003.

Joe Kroboth, the county's director of emergency services, said Wednesday the county never guaranteed CRS that it would receive the $50,000 in fiscal 2003 and instructed the company to remove it from the budget.

The county and the City of Hagerstown each gave CRS a $50,000 grant for the current fiscal year.

Schnebly said he doesn't know whether the organization should receive additional financial support. He said the county has concerns about some CRS purchasing decisions, including one to spend $200,000 for a rescue vehicle in April.

"We had been hearing, 'we're broke, we're broke, we're broke,' and then they went out and bought the squad from Smithsburg EMS for $200,000," Schnebly said.

"I think it's safe to say that the county commissioners at this point are still skeptical over some of the funding decisions that are going on in that organization," Schnebly said. "If we were taking a vote today, I don't think the commissioners would probably favor giving them additional funding."

Nye said CRS is one of the best managed EMS companies in the area, and that it's facing financial woes mainly because of increased calls and the economic situation of its patients.

He said most of the company's calls are from those who are either uninsured or underinsured and use the ambulance service as their primary health care provider, rather than accumulate doctor or hospital bills.

By law, Nye said, the company must treat patients who call for an ambulance but cannot bill them if they refuse to go to the hospital.

Kroboth said the county will keep an eye on CRS and hopes to develop countywide standards dealing with staffing and performance levels.

"We are watching them very closely and working closely with CRS on it," he said.

CRS is a private, nonprofit ambulance company that serves about 35,000 homes and businesses in and around Hagerstown.

CRS has a budget of $1.8 million and employs about 20 full-time and about 40 part-time people, Nye said.

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