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Council lays life-support service debate to rest

February 13, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Borough Council Monday night voted 6-4 to end further discussion on starting its own advanced life support ambulance service after discussing a study that pegged the cost at more than $600,000.

The borough and Greene, Guilford, Hamilton and Letterkenny townships, along with Franklin County, have a contract with West Shore Emergency Medical Services of Camp Hill, Pa., to provide advanced life support (ALS) ambulance service for those municipalities and county facilities. West Shore has provided the service since 2003 and the municipalities entered into a new three-year contract at the beginning of 2006, Assistant Borough Manager David Finch said.

A consulting firm, Parastar Inc., issued a report that listed three options for the borough to consider - maintaining the status quo; beginning an ALS service with the support of the townships; and starting an ALS service without township support.

Maintaining the current agreement, in which West Shore also provides the borough with backup basic life support ambulance service, costs the borough about $29,000 a year, the study concluded. An ALS service supported by the township would cost the borough approximately $245,000 and, without township support, $601,000 a year to pay for paramedics salaries, vehicles and other expenses.

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"That's not a one-time cost. It's a forever cost," Finch said of the annual costs of an ALS service. Other studies have come up with other figures, but Finch said the cost of the service with support of the townships is "misleading."

"We have no evidence that the townships are going to support an ALS system," Finch said. The township governments are against the idea, he said.

"The municipalities involved in the Ambulance Advisory Committee have told the borough if they go ALS, they'll be doing it on their own," Greene Township Supervisor Charles D. Jamison said last week.

Monday night, however, some council members expressed concerns over missed calls by West Shore and wanted Parastar representatives to come in and explain the figures in its report.

"I thought we were all here for the community and to help people," Councilwoman Sharon Bigler said. "Yesterday, I think we missed six ambulance calls. These are people."

"I'm not sure West Shore is stepping up its game," Councilwoman Elaine Swartz said of the missed calls.

"We have to deal with a concept called reasonable and realistic expectations," Council President William McLaughlin said. A borough ALS service, he said, would require a significant increase in taxes for something taxpayers now get essentially for free.

When West Shore cannot make it to a call, McLaughlin said, another ambulance service provides mutual aid.

McLaughlin was joined by council members Ruth Harbaugh, Glenn Manns, Heath Talhelm, Janet Lukic and Robert Wareham in deciding to stay with the current system. Bigler, Swartz and council members Allen Coffman and Mary Beth Shank voted against the resolution.

"May you all never have to wait for an ambulance," Bigler said after the vote.

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