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AMED could see job cuts next year

Emergency services provider sees drop in its call volume

A shrinkage in call volume due to COVID-19 could force AMED to consider service changes for next year, including roster cuts and eliminating its current policy of always sending Advanced Life Support crews to emergencies, according to Executive Director Gary Watters.

“It’s scary,” Watters said Monday of AMED’s financial situation. “We realistically could be down $2.5 million by the end of the year.”

Seven months in, the authority was down $1.1 million in revenue on a $30 million annual budget, according to Watters. That has resulted from a call deficit, which reached 1,087 by the end of August, compared with last year.

In 2019, AMED responded to 18,500 calls.

In late March, early in the pandemic, call volume was down 36 percent, as people refused to go to the hospital for fear of the coronavirus, during a time when public health officials were afraid hospitals would be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and when hospitals were prohibited from elective surgeries to ensure there were enough beds for COVID-19 patients, Watters said previously.

By mid-June, the volume shortfall had eased to 21 percent below normal, with surgeries and admissions having returned.

Currently, call volumes are down 10 percent from normal, a shortfall that exists largely because restaurants aren’t at full capacity, bars remain closed and the size of events continues to be restricted, leading to fewer crashes, fewer falls and fewer problems like bee-sting reactions and heat stroke, according to Watters.

AMED has reduced personnel expenses as much as it can, but it needs to maintain “readiness,” even when “the income to support it is (partially) gone,” he said.

Expenses haven’t shrunk to offset the loss of business, he said.

They’ve actually increased relative to last year by $74,000 — with $58,000 of that additional cost comprised of bad debt, because “people don’t have the money to pay their bills,” Watters told the board.

AMED has applied for $60,000 from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to cover the cost of personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 necessities and $37,000 from Blair County’s allotment of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding for costs connected with modifications to accommodate remote work, remote meetings and social distancing, Watters said.

But there hasn’t been money to replace the lost revenue, he said.

The authority is trying to avoid service reduction changes, Watters said.

But it needs help, he stated.

Changing the policy to allow for Basic Life Support, rather than only ALS crews, is one potential money-saving tactic to consider for 2021, if the help doesn’t come, according to Watters.

Others include shrinking the ambulance fleet, he said.

Emergency medical services haven’t fared well in Pennsylvania, according to Watters and the Pennsylvania Ambulance Association, expressing its dissatisfaction in late August.

The snubs from the state included not being included among groups eligible for hazard pay grants, being allocated only 6 percent of $50 million provided by the PA COVID-19 Fire, Rescue and EMS grant and being allocated nothing from Act 10 of 2020, which earmarked $50 million for medical equipment and supplies, according to Watters and the association.

“We are continually responding and constantly forgotten,” stated association President Dean Bollendorf in an open letter to Gov. Tom Wolf and the General Assembly, included in an email from Watters at the time.

AMED has received $110,000 in CARES money, but that was only to cover insurance copays and deductibles that would otherwise be an obligation of patients to pay, and it came with the requirement that AMED not collect copays or deductibles from any coronavirus-suspected patients, Waters said previously.

The money has been used up, but COVID-19 patients continue to need to be transported, which means AMED is out on the copays and deductibles those patients would otherwise pay, according to Watters.

“I’m sweating, but not profusely sweating at this point,” Watters told the board.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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