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Council in Chambersburg sticks with emergency service

July 26, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chambersburg will not be starting an advanced life support ambulance service for at least three years after the Borough Council voted Monday to renew an emergency medical services agreement with West Shore Advanced Life Support and Greene, Guilford, Hamilton and Letterkenny townships.

The council at first tabled action on the recommendation by Borough Manager Eric Oyer and Emergency Services Chief John Vanlandingham, but reconsidered when borough attorney Thomas Finucane said the townships wanted a decision then or would begin negotiating their own ambulance agreement.

"You're in a box," Finucane said.

Oyer said the townships want to maintain the existing agreement, which expires at the end of this year.

"You cannot make an educated vote on this tonight," Councilwoman Sharon Bigler said in arguing for the recommendation to be tabled. She said there was no follow-up on a decision by the council in December to form a committee to examine alternatives, including forming an advanced life support service.

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Bigler said the council needed more time to reconcile differences in numbers presented by Vanlandingham and those in an earlier report by a consultant. By increasing the number of ambulance subscriptions, where people pay an annual fee for service, and improving bill collection, an ALS service could become economically practical, she said.

"Is it best for us to go out and duplicate a service and lose $500,000 a year?" Council President William McLaughlin asked. He said public services are already "balkanized" because municipalities replicate services rather than enter into cooperative agreements.

"The only reason I've ever pushed ALS is ... it's more cost-effective," Bigler said.

Summit Health President Norman Epstein said creating a borough ALS service would hurt both the borough and West Shore because neither would have a large enough operating base to be financially sound. Chambersburg will continue to operate a basic life support ambulance service, with West Shore providing advanced life support, according to the final vote. The resolution also reduces the number of borough ambulances from three to two.

Although the borough has three ambulances, Vanlandingham said only one is staffed per shift.

The approved motion also calls for turning over billing to a third party to improve collections from the current rate of about 50 percent. The council also will form a committee to evaluate ambulance service during the three-year contract period.

Vanlandingham said the borough made 3,862 ambulance calls in 2004, but about 1,600 were in the townships. Operating an ALS service, he said, would require hiring six paramedics and, with the loss of township runs, result in a net loss of $535,000 a year, compared to about $184,000 under the current system.

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