County may impose ambulance fee
The Morgan County Commission will hold a public hearing on Friday, June 15 at 1:30 p.m. to consider the adoption of a special emergency ambulance service fee. The fee would benefit both the Morgan County Rescue Service and Paw Paw Fire and Rescue.
The ambulance service fee discussed at the meeting was $85 for each household, but that amount could change. If approved, the annual ambulance fee would be a separate bill that would be added to this year's property tax bills, which will go out in early July.
Emergency Medical Service advisory committee members and Morgan County Rescue Service members appealed to
the county commissioners at their
June 1 meeting to adopt an ambulance fee. They had also requested the crea-tion of a county ambulance authority, but the commissioners felt that they could create an ambulance fee without doing so.
The ambulance fee would be used to hire one additional full-time employee and increase wages for permanent employees and offer benefits, insurance and retirement. The fee would also
help provide needed equipment for the emergency transport vehicles and replace the transport units when
The ambulance fee would also allow them to increase the salaries for paramedics from $13 to $17 an hour and raise the wages for emergency medical technicians from $9.00-$10 an hour to $13 an hour. That would still fall short of what is offered in surrounding counties. Some will accept less pay if there are benefits, said Morgan County Rescue Service Chief John Corson.
Some $544,604 would be collected through the proposed $85 ambulance fee if 70% of the 9,153 estimated households in Morgan County paid the fee.
The Morgan County Rescue Service has a voluntary subscription service to which about 400 households subscribe. Subscriptions have decreased by 15% over the past three years, while their expenses have increased by 31%. This year, they had planned to raise the family subscription rate from $75 to $85, the first increase in five years.
If the proposed ambulance service
fee per household is approved, the
Rescue Service's subscription plan
will be discontinued. As with the
subscription fee, any unpaid balance
for ambulance transport left after
insurance payments will be forgiven
if households have paid the proposed special emergency ambulance service fee.
Staying above water
Revenue from the ambulance fee would just keep them above water, said Rescue Service staff. They had looked at a range of $75-$125 for the ambulance fee before settling on the proposed $85 fee.
The Morgan County Rescue Service also receives income from billing for its Advanced Life Support (ALS) and Basic Life Support (BLS) transport unit service.
The county averages about five ambulance calls a day or 1,800 calls per year. Payment rates average around 30%. Some 70% of their clients do not have health insurance coverage. Grants have pretty much dried up since 9/11, they said.
The County Commission formed the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) advisory committee in July, 2006. Their main objective was to evaluate and restructure the EMS system so it would provide a guaranteed countywide emergency response system for residents and visitors.
Other committee goals were to hire permanent employees and offer them fair compensation and benefits, provide reliable equipment such as transport units, heart monitors and other supplies and provide Paw Paw Fire and Rescue with financial aid.
Paw Paw Fire and Rescue members voted to remain volunteer and to support the establishment of a countywide ambulance fee, said Commission President Glen Stotler. Money from the ambulance fee would go toward their operating budget and ambulance replacement. They are also looking to build a new fire hall.
Worried about keeping staff
Corson was worried about keeping the paramedics they have since there is such a shortage and other counties are offering much higher wages. Paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are also required to have extensive training and continuing education to remain certified.
The Morgan County Rescue Service has five full-time employees on staff—two full-time paramedics and two full-time EMTs plus Corson. Paramedics often work two or three jobs because of their 24-hour two days on and three days off schedule.
They also have part-time paramedics and EMTs. The proposed ambulance fee will allow part-timers to be on seven days a week instead of five days Monday through Friday.
Need new vehicles, equipment
It costs approximately $85,000 to put a new ambulance on the road, said advisory committee member Kevin Duckwall. There are four licensed transport units at the Rescue Service and one in Paw Paw. Of these five transport units, two need immediate replacement.
Morgan County Rescue Service has two transport units that are four-wheel drive former military surplus vehicles, one of which is 17 years old and the other is 13 years old. Of the two main transport units, one is a 2001 vehicle that has 155,000 miles on it and the other is a 2005 with 56,000 miles. Paw Paw's transport unit has about 60,000 miles on it.
The transport vehicles average around 60,000-70,000 miles a year, said Duckwall. They start having problems with the ambulances when they hit 100,000 miles, he said. A replacement schedule is needed for the transport units.
Because of new American Heart Association guidelines, every defibrillator in the county must be replaced July 1. This expense alone will cost $85,000. Supplying a transport unit with a heart monitor runs $24,000.
Rescue squad in dire straits
The County Commission unanimously approved a $25,000 loan to the Morgan County Rescue Service to help them pay bills before the end of the month and keep their doors open. The electric was scheduled to be shut off and Corson hadn't been paid in two months.
Corson hasn't cashed his paychecks because money at the Rescue Service was running so close, said Duckwall. While a loan would help in the interim, they could be in trouble if an ambulance fee wasn't implemented.
The Morgan County Rescue Service agreed to hold off on their annual June subscription mail-out until the public hearing and the Commission's decision on the ambulance fee.
Life and death
Corson told of how Morgan County Rescue Service staff had recently saved two lives in one day.
"It's hard to put a price on life," said Commissioner Tommy Swaim.