Officials give Pa. ambulance association $12K ultimatum
Trans-Med acted as a back-up service when the association had to go out of service due to staff shortages
By Geri Gibbons
SWOYERSVILLE, Pa. — The borough council on Tuesday voted to give the Swoyersville Community Ambulance Association two months to pay $12,000 owed to Trans-Med Ambulance or be shut down.
The association incurred the debt during periods when insufficient staffing made it necessary for it to go “out of service,” with Trans-Med acting as a backup service and then billing the association.
Council members said it was likely that should the association be shut down, the borough would contract with Trans-Med for ambulance services.
Bob White, a spokesperson for the association, said the amount owed paled when compared with the service provided to the community.
“We go above and beyond to residents of the community,” he said. “I know we owe money, but we can do this.”
Still, White admitted that the association had significant debts beyond the $12,000 owed to Trans Med.
Several members of the audience said the ambulance has responded to medical emergencies within the borough, providing excellent services and even doing follow-up.
Borough solicitor Joe Yeager said, “We don’t doubt the quality of service, we doubt their finances.”
Councilwoman Patty O’Donnell told White, “In the last several months, you have been out of service more than you have been in service.”
O’Donnell also alleged that the association recently wrote a check that bounced.
White again said, “Just give us some time.”
Council President Ron Alunni said, “We gave you time last month and you didn’t come through. This has been going on month after month.”
Councilman Joseph Onzik followed with, “This has been going on year after year.”
“Not only do you owe money,” said O’Donnell. “You haven’t even made a payment since March.”
Several members of the association attending the meeting alleged that Mayor Chris Concert had contacted members of the media about the debt and its long-term effect on the viability of the ambulance association.
“I don’t want the ambulance to close,” said Concert. “I’m the only member of council that ever worked to raise money for the ambulance.”
At Yeager’s direction, the council also appointed a councilman — unanimously approving O’Donnell — to sit on the association’s board, with access to their financial records.
Dave Prohaska, public relations officer for Trans-Med, also addressed council, saying that although it was a “for-profit” entity, should ambulance services fall solely to Trans-Med, it would operate in much the same way and at the same level of benefit to residents.
“Nonprofit and for-profit are simply government labels, we both bill and serve in the same way,” he said.
Prohaska said that it is not uncommon for ambulance service providers to owe Trans Med money, but the Swoyersville Ambulance consistently owed Trans-Med money over several years.
According to White, the state requires two certified EMTs be available for an ambulance to be considered available for service. If they are not available for a call, the association is then responsible for costs owed to Trans-Med.
Concert noted that Trans-Med charged the association $100 for each call for which the association was out of service.
Councilman Joseph Olejnick said, “No one wants to see Swoyersville ambulance fail. Council will do what they can to help, but our first responsibility is to our taxpayers.”
Alunni expressed concern that although the association would soon be receiving money from its annual fund drive, those monies should be going to fund the upcoming year, not past debt.
“I’m willing to give them two more months, if you are,” Alunni told fellow council members.
Copyright 2017 The Times Leader