Marienville area concerned over medical services
By Randy Bartley
A group of elected officials tried to solve a puzzle Aug. 16 for which they don't have all the pieces to complete.
The puzzle is how to supply an affordable emergency medical service to a rural area, in this case the Marienville area.
Clarion Hospital had been supplying medical services to the area, but recently the hospital reduced services. The area is currently served 12 hours a day during the week when staffing is available.
"There is no easy solution to this problem. It is a puzzle," said Jeff Smathers, Clarion County Emergency Services director. "The old volunteer ambulance services no longer exist and the paid services are short of staff."
"The shortage is only part of the problem," Smathers added. "The second part is the lack of funding. The problem is manpower and money."
Jenks Township Supervisor Kevin Carter said the township has contacted EmergyCare, an Erie-based non-profit ambulance service with divisions in Erie, Titusville, Warren and Kane.
He found the cost would be about $569,400 for 24/7 service. Housing would be provided by the municipality at no cost.
Carter said there are several negative factors including recruitment of staff, an estimated $410,025 loss in the first year, rising annual costs, a stagnant or decreasing population, and others.
Carter also investigated a basic live support (BLS) service for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to many of the same problems, there would an initial investment of $132,000 by the municipalities that would increase by about 3 percent every year.
Carter said the townships have the ability to levy a three-mill emergency services tax, but a single township's levy would not be sufficient. He suggested a cooperative effort by several municipalities.
"I realize some of them may not want to do it," he said.
State Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-63) said the state was looking at legislation that would increase the repayment to ambulance services.
An ambulance call could cost more than $1,000, but Medicare and insurance companies cap the repayment to the service.
Oberlander said she doesn't know how fast the bill could move through the legislature.
"It could be a few months or two years," she said.
It was suggested that the existing ambulance services pool their resources the way fire companies do in an emergency.
"That would be Band-Aid," said Smathers. "It would require re-licensing in some cases and it would still be dependent on staffing."
"We don't know what effect the merger of Clarion and Butler hospitals will have on EMS services," said Smathers. "I think Butler will be very fair to the community."
"This is not just a Clarion problem," Smathers added. "It is a state and a national problem."
The group agreed to meet again in a few weeks.