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United Way of Lancaster County


County approves ARPA for regional emergency services authority’s startup costs (update)

Northwest EMS’ flagship station in Elizabethtown. (Source: Northwest EMS)

Update, March 29: The Lancaster County commissioners unanimously approved providing the proposed $375,000 to the Municipal Emergency Services Authority of Lancaster County.

Previously reported:

The Lancaster County commissioners are poised to approve $375,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to help cover startup costs for the Municipal Emergency Services Authority of Lancaster County or MESA, a new intermunicipal EMS organization set up to provide a stable funding stream for local ambulance service in the county’s northwest.

Earlier this year, eight municipalities currently served by Northwest EMS joined together to found the authority. A representative of each of the townships or boroughs sits on the MESA board.

The eight founding municipal members of the Municipal Emergency Services Authority of Lancaster County. Click to enlarge. (Source: Municipal Emergency Services Authority of Lancaster County | OUL)

The challenge, board members mentioned in their last meeting March 15, is that because the organization is brand new, it doesn’t yet have any money in the coffers.

The authority, planners say, will eventually be funded through a model incorporating fee-for-service payments for ambulance runs and a modest annual fee on property owners. Right now, however, it is facing significant startup costs, and is counting on the $375,000 from ARPA.

It sounds like the money will be forthcoming. All three commissioners voiced support for the project, indicating they will approve the funding at their Wednesday meeting.

In their work session Tuesday, the commissioners discussed MESA’s application with members of its board and county Budget Services Director Pat Mulligan. They also discussed the larger problem: That EMS departments across the country are having problems remaining financially solvent due to rising costs and insufficient insurance reimbursements.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” said John Yoder of West Donegal Township, a MESA board member. “We’re very pleased and surprised with how quickly the state approved (the authority) – we think it is going to make a huge stride in assuring that when someone calls 911, an ambulance is there …

“We want to be there for the 911 call. That’s the goal.”

“There has been discussion on this throughout the community for years now,” said Commissioner Josh Parsons, noting that officials in places like Erie County and elsewhere are focused on the same issue.

MESA, he said, “can be a model for the rest of the Commonwealth. … We’re hopeful that it will be a good model, that it will continue to grow.”

Citing reimbursement models and financial pressures, Parsons talked about the necessary innovation that can change outdated systems. “It’s a municipal responsibility,” he said of EMS services, “but that’s not easy. What the county can do is provide support.”

In conversations with local municipal leaders, “the status of fire and EMS funding comes up pretty often,” said Commissioner John Trescot. “We’re fortunately served by a lot of volunteers (in Lancaster County), but there is financial pressure.”

Yoder, who drove ambulances in the 1980s, explained that people tend to think that health insurance covers EMS services. In reality, he said, the equation is much more complicated.

Northwest EMS has sent around $500,000 a year in unpaid billings to collections, but has recovered very little.

“I know how difficult it is to maintain the service that’s required,” said Commissioner Ray D’Agostino. “You’re working to solve a problem for the people that you serve that can be efficient and effective.”