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Council discusses advanced medical services

February 15, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - With its agreement with West Shore Emergency Medical Services due to expire at the end of the year, the Chambersburg Borough Council must decide whether to stay with the advanced life support provider, establish its own service or consider other options.

West Shore has provided the advanced life support, or ALS, ambulance service to the borough and surrounding townships since 2003. Monday night a consultant outlined four alternatives for the council to consider.

Consultant J.R. Henry of Pittsburgh said the borough could keep the present system with the borough providing basic ambulance services and West Shore providing ALS; create an ALS service for the borough and townships; create an ALS without participation by the townships; or subcontract all emergency medical services.

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During a one-year period, Henry said the Chambersburg Fire Department had about 3,500 ambulance calls in the borough and townships. Henry said there were 241 missed ambulance calls in the borough, meaning a borough ambulance was unavailable.

West Shore responded to about 43 percent of those 3,500 calls and picked up most of the missed calls when Chambersburg ambulances could not respond, Henry said.

Borough Manager Eric Oyer said West Shore charges the borough nothing for the service and is paid instead by Medicare and insurance companies for its services.

For a call in which both basic and advanced life support ambulances are required, Henry said the borough bills an average of $777, but collects $377, some of which goes to West Shore. The difference between what is billed and collected is largely due to what insurers will pay in reimbursements for ambulance runs, he said.

The borough charged about $1.2 million for ambulance calls during the time, but collected about half that amount, according to Henry. Considering the reimbursement caps, Henry said the borough gets about 80 percent of what it might reasonably expect to collect.

Starting an ALS service would require hiring six paramedics, Henry said. Even with the fees the department would collect that now go to West Shore, Henry said it would cost the borough an additional $154,000 a year.

Oyer said that is the equivalent of 1 mill in real estate taxes.

Councilwoman Sharon Bigler, a supporter of a borough ALS service, said Henry's study failed to take into account fees the borough would collect for missing fewer calls, as well as for non-emergency patient transfers now handled by West Shore.

"This is not a lot of money ... We should do this for our citizens," Bigler said. Response time would also be faster because the borough would be operating more than one ambulance at a time and thus miss fewer calls, she said.

"This raises more questions than it answers," Councilman Allen Coffman said of the study. The council voted to form a committee to study the options.

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