Northwestern Lancaster County’s new Municipal Emergency Services Authority, MESA, is gearing up to begin operations in six local municipalities next year.
The new service will cover Conoy, East Donegal, West Donegal and Mount Joy townships and Marietta and Elizabethtown boroughs.
MESA is the first EMS authority in Pennsylvania authorized to levy an annual fee in its service area. In essence, it is a new governance and legal structure for the personnel and assets of Northwest EMS, the nonprofit ambulance agency that has provided service historically.
MESA plans to take over from Northwest EMS in early 2024. Proponents hope the arrangement can provide a sustainable financial footing and help MESA avoid the financial shortfalls that have become endemic in the emergency services sector.
When incorporated at the end of last year, MESA envisioned having eight municipal members, but two have since opted out: Elizabeth Township and Penn Township.
Penn Township had voted to confirm its membership in February. Subsequently, however, a competing offer came in from Penn State Health’s “Life Lion” service.
According to township staff, Life Lion would cost only $5 per capita per year for the first three years, significantly less than MESA’s projected fees. The township formally withdrew in July.
As for Elizabeth Township, supervisors there cited competitive offers by Penn State Health and concerns about what it would cost to back out of MESA later for any reason. They voted to withdraw in October.
Budget and fees
MESA’s estimated budget for 2024 is $5.6 million. A little more than half of its operating costs will be covered by a projected $3 million from reimbursements for services. The authority is also applying for a number of grants. An estimated $2.4 million will come from the assessed fees.
For residences, including single family homes and apartments, the fee will be $85 a year. Assisted living residents will be charged $470, and nursing facilities will be charged $295 per “acute care nursing bed.” Businesses will be charged $10 per full time employee.
The fees were calculated based on the volume of calls generated by each category in 2022, MESA said.
In return, MESA will provide 24/7 service. Residents whose insurance pays for ambulance transportation will not be charged for any portion not covered; those without insurance or for whom ambulance service is part of their deductible will receive a 50% discount.
The authority has received $375,000 in county American Rescue Plan Act funds to cover startup costs, but MESA board member Marc Hershey told One United Lancaster that more will be needed to set everything up.
“We’ll be assessing what is needed moving forward,” he said.
All of the proposed arrangements were detailed in a mailer sent to the municipalities’ residents earlier this year. MESA also held a special meeting in September to talk about the project.
Hershey said residents are mainly concerned about cost.
“Costs continue to go up,” he said. “We’re trying to make it work … We’ll have to have conversations.”
Northwestern EMS, he said, will retain its nonprofit status in order to potentially get grants to help cover MESA’s capital expenses.
In November LNP reported that Manheim Borough Council voted to acquire the Northwest EMS station at 60 W. Colebrook St. by eminent domain for potential use as a borough hall and EMS facility. Representatives of Northwest EMS did not reply to inquiries seeking comment.
The borough had considered joining MESA but decided instead to contract with Life Lion.