POINT PLEASANT — After months of discussion, the Mason County Commission has voted to place an operating levy on the November ballot to assist in funding Mason County Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
At Thursday’s regular commission meeting, Commissioners Tracy Doolittle, Miles Epling and Rick Handley, all voted to put the levy to voters.
County Administrator John Gerlach explained the levy would be for five years and generate an estimated $750,000, annually, specifically for EMS operations. Gerlach said the levy would raise taxes five cents per $100 of assessed valuation on property. Commissioners met with EMS officials, as well as looked at surrounding counties in terms of their staffing and levy rates to arrive at the proposal for Mason County voters. More on the levy, including ballot language, as well as how it will specifically affect taxpayers, in upcoming editions.
The Mason County Ambulance Authority Board also voted for the operating levy but it had to ultimately be approved by the county commission.
Back in April, the Point Pleasant Register reported a perfect storm of billing changes from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies, as well as revenue and funding decreases, were creating a serious situation when it comes to the future of Mason County EMS.
At that time, Chuck Blake, EMS director, told the Register all EMS would be asking the commission to approve is enough money to pay staff and keep equipment fit to run. He said then, EMS had already made significant cuts to the point where there’s nowhere left to cut, and still, he said they were “doing everything in our power to maintain services.”
As previously reported, there is no operating levy in Mason County for EMS, which makes its money from billing Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance agencies for services. Basically, they are at the mercy of insurance companies, Blake explained in April. 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 because of 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.
Cutting the number of ambulances available to run is also a catch 22 for many reasons, including safety and those “runs” are what bring income into EMS. Less available ambulances, means less income and that is something EMS can’t afford to lose.
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 priorities in terms of transport.
An operating levy for EMS is not unusual with several surrounding counties having them in place for their EMS services.
Reach Beth Sergent at [email protected] or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.