Ridgway Record

Pennsylvan­ia EMS system teeters on brink of collapse, official says

- By Anthony Hennen By Alan Budman/The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvan­ia’s hyperlocal emergency medical services system teeters on the brink of collapse and, officials say, it’s up to legislator­s to intervene before it’s too late.

“If they do nothing, this will collapse — there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it —this system will collapse if nothing changes,” said Eric Henry, a Crawford County Commission­er and owner of the Meadville Area Ambulance Service.

For years, Pennsylvan­ia has struggled with funding emergency medical services. Those problems have grown as the rural population shrinks, inflationa­ry pressures raise costs, and the system itself becomes more and more fractured.

“Frankly, to be honest, we’ve been sounding this alarm for 10, 11, 12 years that this was coming,” Henry said. “All COVID did was push us over the cliff and because we had to increase our wages to compete with Sheetz or McDonalds or Burger King — at one point, paramedics were making less money than places like Sheetz.”

State funding has increased in recent years after what Henry called “a lot of kicking and screaming from ambulance services.”

Former Gov. Tom Wolf’s last budget provided an $85 million increase for EMS and raised reimbursem­ent rates, as The Center Square previously reported. But operators view the policy as little more than a “band-aid” incapable of fixing decades of problems.

Legislator­s have also discussed loosening requiremen­ts concerning ambulance crews and allowing townships to increase taxes to fund ambulance services.

While those reforms could help, financial issues remain the top concern, Henry said.

“Medicaid and Medicare both provide reimbursem­ent at less than the cost to actually run the call,” he said. “Medicaid at 40% less, Medicare at 30% less.”

Ambulances are legally required to handle calls, even when the health concerns are not life threatenin­g. Giving more flexibilit­y to ambulance services to deny some transport demands could make

EMS more financiall­y stable, Henry said.

“As an example, if someone calls us for toe pain or finger pain, if they are persistent about wanting transport by ambulance, we have to take them, and we’re not going to get paid for that trip most likely,” he said. “Frankly, you’re taking an ambulance available out of service for something that doesn’t need an ambulance.”

Changes that make day-to-day operations easier could matter, and so could restructur­ing EMS operations. Rather than a local approach, Henry argued for a regional one.

He said creating multi-municipal authoritie­s to run EMS would be the “most important” reform legislator­s could adopt. When townships, boroughs, and small towns combine EMS services, it can spread out the cost borne by taxpayers and improve coordinati­on.

Nearby states, such as Maryland, take a county-level approach rather than the hyperlocal approach that dominates Pennsylvan­ia. Changing that status quo, however, will take a lot of work, Henry said.

“Legislator­s have put this on the back burner and, frankly, I’m pretty disappoint­ed in them,” he said.

The House Republican Policy Committee has scheduled a hearing Wednesday in Harrisburg to discuss policy regarding first responders and public safety ahead of the chamber’s Feb. 21 return to session.

The Senate will likewise reconvene on Feb. 27, after an unexpected one-month hiatus.

 ?? ?? Two Philadelph­ia Transit Policeman are seen by a Philadelph­ia Fire Department Emergency Medical Services ambulance.
Two Philadelph­ia Transit Policeman are seen by a Philadelph­ia Fire Department Emergency Medical Services ambulance.

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