Northwest EMS, which provides emergency medical services to communities in northwestern Lancaster County, is facing an emergency of its own.
It could become insolvent in three to five years.
That means if something isn’t done, the municipalities served by the county’s third-busiest EMS agency will have to figure out another way to provide those state-mandated services. Other emergency medical service agencies are also facing the same challenges.
Northwest anticipates its expenses this year will surpass $4.5 million while its budget shortfall will exceed $500,000. It has 43 full-time employees, 36 part-time employees and 10 volunteers.
Currently, funding comes from subscribers — people who pay an annual membership fee — as well as municipal contributions and insurance reimbursements. But Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements don’t cover the full cost of services, some private insurer patients don’t forward reimbursement checks to Northwest, and some patients have no insurance or are underinsured.
Memberships cost $50 per person, $65 per couple and $80 per family. Just under half — 44% — of the community Northwest serves are subscribers.
That’s not sustainable, according to officials.
Last summer, a committee of municipal officials and Kingsboro began looking into ways to stabilize funding.
Creating a regional emergency medical services authority.
Such an authority would be able to assess a fee on all households, businesses and institutions in the region it serves. Essentially, if approved, the annual membership would be swapped out and replaced with an annual fee, probably around $75 a year for households.
“Just like all of us sitting here, nobody wants another $75 fee to pay, but you want to pick up the phone, call 911 and have an ambulance there,” Hershey said. That costs money.
Public meetings on the plan will be scheduled this summer, first for municipalities to consider creating an authority, and then, if approved, to set fees. If all goes as planned, the authority could be in place in January.
Each municipality that signs on would have a representative on the authority’s board.