EMS facing uncertain future

Beth Sergent - [email protected]

POINT PLEASANT — Mason County EMS made over 7,500 “runs” in 2015, though just how many it will make this year, remains to be seen.

A perfect storm of billing changes from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies, as well as revenue and funding decreases, are creating a serious situation when it comes to the future of Mason County EMS.

“We’re important infrastructure…we’re like bridges and roads,” Chuck Blake, EMS director said, hoping to find a solution to keep the operation intact.

Blake explained, to make the most recent payroll, he had to borrow $15,000 from the organization’s savings account. This left the account with around $42,000 and with employees being paid bi-weekly, there’s only so long Blake can continue to do that before the money runs out, if revenue doesn’t improve.

EMS makes its money from billing Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance agencies for services. Basically, they are at the mercy of insurance companies, Blake explained. And, those agencies are operating differently than before, particularly when it comes to transporting dialysis patients which brought in a significant amount of revenue. These changes, as well as a cut from the county due to budget constraints which hit multiple agencies due to the county’s own declining revenue, mean EMS will be working with over $420,000 less than what it had last year. To be clear, the bulk of that, around $300,000, has to do with changes concerning the transport and billing of those dialysis patients.

The Mason County Ambulance Authority Board has unanimously approved requesting an operating levy which would have to be voted upon by the Mason County Commission before going to voters who would ultimately make the decision to pass or vote it down. Blake has already spoken with county commissioners about the situation and is to attend next week’s regular commission meeting to discuss considering the placement of a levy to keep EMS operating. This is all in the discussion stages and levy rates and duration have not been decided.

Blake said all EMS would be asking the commission to approve is enough money to pay staff and keep equipment fit to run. He said EMS has already made significant cuts to the point where there’s nowhere left to cut, and still, he said they are “doing everything in our power to maintain services.”

To give the public some kind of idea of just what EMS does, in 2015, personnel made 7,594 “runs” in Mason County. EMS has a fleet of 10 ambulances, four of which are running 24 hours a day and one is a transport truck. With 7,594 runs in 2015, mileage begins to become a factor for some of the vehicles with the following estimated mileage counts on vehicles as of Wednesday: 210,970; 25,250; 22,342; 92,654; 129,518; 207,647; 92,738; 65,766; 165,859; 200,900. EMS purchased two new vehicles last year out of necessity and safety, accepting the two lowest bids for the new buses which were immediately put into action.

Blake said cutting the number of ambulances available to run is also a catch 22 for many reasons, including safety and those “runs” are what brings income into EMS. Less available ambulances, means less income and that is something EMS can’t afford to lose.

As Blake pointed out, keeping equipment updated and certified is a constant, expensive battle, particularly when revenue is dwindling. Since July 2015, Mason County EMS has reported losses each month due to a decline in revenue, though expenses have also declined. In addition, EMS has around $1 million in delinquent bills accumulated by customers who have not paid for EMS services which have been turned over for collection.

If EMS would have to close due to lack of funding, it’s possible a private ambulance company would service the county but this also has its issues with no local governmental body to hold it accountable and a private entity making decisions about patient care and transport.

An operating levy to maintain EMS services is not unusual with Blake saying surrounding counties all have one in place.

Mason County Commissioners have also expressed concerns about the funding situation at EMS and fire departments. Commissioners organized an informational meeting with personnel from EMS and fire departments earlier this spring to discuss a levy to help fill the budget shortfalls many agencies are facing. Last year, the county itself dropped in tax classification due to a decline in revenue, specifically hard hit by the dismantling of AEP’s Philip Sporn Plant in New Haven.

Beth Sergent

[email protected]

Reach Beth Sergent at [email protected] or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.

Reach Beth Sergent at [email protected] or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.