48° F

Allentown would have to subsidize a third overnight ambulance

Published On: Sep 04 2014 05:52:46 AM EDT   Updated On: Sep 04 2014 12:28:56 PM EDT
Ambulance blurb



Allentown residents may not have enough middle-of-the-night medical emergencies to justify having three city ambulances operating round-the-clock.

“I don’t know that we can afford to bring on a third ambulance without using general fund revenues,” Allentown City Council member Peter Schweyer told his colleagues Wednesday night.

Schweyer explained the city has three ambulance crews on duty between
7 a.m. and 11 p.m., but only two between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.


He told council there are not enough calls between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. for insurance reimbursements to cover the cost of having a third paramedic crew work through the night.

Schweyer reported that council’s budget & finance committee, which he chairs, and its public safety committee jointly reviewed the total number of emergency medical services calls for the year when they met on Aug. 27.

“The only thing I was looking at was a financial perspective, not the policy position,” he stressed.

“There is a strategic decision that a future council will have to make on whether or not they will want to use general fund money to supplement a third paramedic {crew}overnight, but the insurance numbers aren’t going to cover the cost.

“EMS is not going to be able to sustain a third ambulance without using general fund money to subsidize it overnight.”

After the meeting, he said doing that “might be the right decision for the citizens of Allentown.”

He said if someone living in east Allentown is having a heart attack at 3 a.m. “and your mutual aid {ambulance} is coming from South Whitehall Township,” that person may wish the city had a third ambulance crew on duty overnight.

“There’s a very good argument still to be made to use general fund to cover this,” said Schweyer.

He said late last year, when the city’s 2014 budget was being developed, council promised the public that it would review the need for a third ambulance from a financial perspective after six months.

He said members of council were interested in a cost analysis of EMS calls in the city. “There was a lot of consternation about why we were using mutual aid.”

In June, council member Jeanette Eichenwald told her colleagues that Robert Scheirer, the city’s former fire chief, wanted to have a third city ambulance operating at night “because we are grossly understaffed and people’s lives are in danger.”

Schweyer said council as a whole supports using Allentown EMS as often as possible.

“We certainly appreciate mutual aid, but if there’s an opportunity to use Allentown paramedics for EMS calls, we prefer that.

“If I have a chance to use an Allentown paramedic versus a suburban EMT, I’m going to take an Allentown paramedic every single time.”

Paramedics go through much more medical training than EMTs –Emergency Medical Technicians.

Schweyer said Allentown has only paramedics in its emergency medical services department, but most suburban volunteer ambulance corps that go into the city on mutual aid responses have a combination of paramedics and EMTs.

He indicated during the same six-month-time periods in 2012, 2013 and 2014 “we were within 300 calls of each other.”

He said the percentage of mutual aid calls – where another ambulance comes into the city because Allentown’s ambulances are busy --- also was about the same during that time period in each of those three years.

He said the city had almost 8,700 total calls during those times, but mutual aid was only needed 300 times. “A very small percentage of our calls were actually handled by a mutual aid ambulance corporation.”

Elaborating after the meeting, Schweyer said the city had 8,670 ambulance calls through late August of this year. He said 8,370 –“all but 300” – were handled by city EMS crews.

Those 300 calls were handled by mutual aid from suburban ambulance corps – “typically Cetronia.”

He said 164 of those 300 mutual aid calls happened between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. –“basically one call a night.”

“It’s even less than that between the hours of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., which is the only time that we have two ambulances on duty as opposed to three.”

So far this year, he said, about 150 mutual aid calls have occurred in those late night/early morning hours -- “less than one a night.”

“That’s roughly in line with the past two years,” said Schweyer. “From an economic standpoint, there hasn’t been growth in demand for EMS over the course of the last three years.”

Responding to the numbers during the meeting, council president Julio Guridy said it sounds like a third ambulance is not necessary.

Responded Schweyer: “If you’re having a heart attack, you’re going to think it’s necessary to have an ambulance. But the question is: Are we covered in a safe manner using mutual aid -- that one call a night?”

He added answering that question was beyond the scope of his committee’s review. “We reviewed the finances of it, not the policy of having a third ambulance. That’s a different conversation.

“From a financial perspective, the only way it’s going to work is if we use general funds.”

Mayor Ed Pawlowski has not yet released his proposed 2015 city budget, but Schweyer said he would be shocked if the mayor asks for another ambulance crew in that budget.

“We can make the decision during budget season if we want to do that or not,” he said.

After the council meeting, Schweyer estimated hiring two more paramedics to operate a third ambulance overnight would cost the city about $160,000 in salaries and benefits.

He noted there would be other costs, including medical supplies.

“The bottom line is we wouldn’t recoup that in insurance premiums,”
he said. “There’s not enough demand. It would cost us more than what we would recover in insurance premiums.

“The policy question that leads to is: Does council and the administration want to use general fund to pay for an ambulance or not?”

He said when three city ambulances are on duty, they are based at East Side, Central and Mack South fire stations. Only East Side and Central have ambulances that operate round-the-clock.