Forest leaders lay out ambulance issues

Forest County commissioners took another look at the ambulance service situation in the county during their meeting Monday.

The county is still waiting for the two ambulances it purchased late last year, commissioner Bob Snyder said.

The Tionesta Ambulance Service covers six townships, and each township has one supervisor sitting on the ambulance service board, Snyder said. He lauded the townships for their involvement in the ambulance service, noting they are responsible for services to be provided in their area.

Snyder said he and commissioner Mark Kingston attended a meeting earlier this week in Saegertown that included other county commissioners and ambulance service providers in the region. They discussed things such as the costs of running an ambulance service.

Funding a service and finding qualified people to work in those jobs is becoming increasingly difficult, the commissioners said. Snyder said the number of volunteers and first responders has declined since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Snyder said an Emergycare ambulance representative said at the meeting that ambulance services used to compete against each other for employees, but they don’t do that now because they all know that if they steal employees, the service they steal from won’t be able to cover its territory and the result is other services have to pick up the slack and take calls in that area.

Snyder said that if 20 people begin an EMT course, there may only be six or seven who complete the course and are employable.

And the number of hours someone must put in to become an EMT has gone from 80 to 200 over the years, Snyder added. He said the increases in training are also a barrier to having enough people with the qualifications to do the job.

“I know they (the agency setting the standards) don’t want to lower the bar and they are proud of all they have accomplished, but it is better to lower the standard a little bit than to have nobody to show up and leave you dying at home,” Snyder said.

Snyder also addressed funding issues at the Saegertown meeting, noting Medicaid won’t reimburse ambulance companies for mileage unless their trip is more than 20 miles and they can challenge the bill.

“It’s getting to a point where they (ambulance services) are saying to municipalities, ‘if you don’t pay, we won’t come. The situation is past critical status, it is dangerous’,” Snyder said.

Snyder also said the Clarion Hospital Ambulance Service could be shut down without much warning and the Sheffield Fire Department Ambulance Service shut down at the end of 2021. Sheffield served part of Forest County, but now that service is coming from Kane, Snyder said.

“We need to educate the legislators and township officials on the issue, because the services are their responsibility,” Kingston said.

“This is going to take legislation to fix. Municipalities are allowed to have a fire tax of three mills, but the maximum they are allowed to tax for ambulance service is one half of one mill,” Snyder said.

He estimated that if every municipality levied the maximum ambulance tax allowed, it “wouldn’t clear $12,000.” Currently, only Barnett Township has an EMS tax, Snyder said,

In other business at Wednesday’s meeting, Snyder said Tuesday’s primary election went well with only “a few minor user errors.”

Voter turnout was 39%, which chief clerk and elections director Lynette Greathouse said was pretty good for a primary.

Howe Township had a turnout of 51 voters, which Snyder said was more than he had ever seen before.

Commissioners also approved disbursing Secure Rural Schools funds to municipalities in the county and Forest Area School District.

Snyder said the funds come out of the U.S. Forest Service’s timber harvesting revenue based on how much land the Forest Service owns in each township.

Amounts received include Howe, $204,805; Jenks, $179,796; Barnett, $12,863, Green, $8,165, Harmony, $3,771; Hickory, $51,251; Kingsley, $101,166; and Tionesta Township, $6,537.

Forest Area School District will receive $605,303.

And in another matter, Snyder said Commissioner Basil Huffman, who was in a car crash three weeks ago and was then found to have an underlying condition, is feeling much better.

Snyder said Huffman is still in a hospital but is expected to come home in a few days.