County EMA considers solutions for crisis

Staff writer

There may be short-term and long-term solutions available for the emergency medical crisis in Clarion County.

Lue Wilson, the assistant secretary of the Clarion County Township Association, said Monday at a meeting of the county Emergency Management Committee that the previous limits placed on the use of the American Rescue Plan money have been eased.

Wilson said the new rules go into effect in April.

County commissioner Ed Heasley said that under the previous federal guidelines the money could only be used for infrastructure projects.

Commissioner Wayne Brosius said the county had used funds to erect towers for the county’s emergency dispatch service and to build the new 9-1-1 center.

Fred Vasbinder of the Southern Clarion County Ambulance Service said added funding could be used to pay for health insurance and for emergency medical technicians.

“The problem is attracting new personnel,” said Steve Merryman of the Shippenville Ambulance Service. “Some of our people are working two and three jobs.

“This is one-time money,” said Steven Davis, the Clarion Hospital president. “It is a one-time fix. We need to think about this at this critical stage.”

The ambulance services have been approaching the various municipalities to solicit increased support, and the response has been mixed.

“Some of them are waiting it out,” said Merryman.

Matt Sherbine, chairman of the Farmington Township Board of Supervisors, said Forest County had received a federal grant to purchase two ambulances. He said Forest County is looking to form an authority for emergency services.

Clarion Hospital currently provides service to parts of Forest County. The hospital provided 59.5 percent of all emergency transports last year.

There were 6,978 calls in 2020 and 7,351 in 2021, an increase of 553 calls.

Heasley said two bills have been introduced in the state legislature to allow such authorities to be formed, but he said neither bill has come up for a vote.

“This is a great short-term solution,” said Jeff Smathers, Clarion County’s director of emergency services. “We need a long-term solution to help them get back on their feet.”