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2 Pa. ambulance companies merge for better service

The process will take nearly a year, and it's meant to provide better cost savings and a higher level of care

By Stephen J. Pytak
Republican & Herald

ORWIGSBURG, Pa. — In an effort to provide better and more cost-efficient services, two community ambulance organizations have recently merged.

As of April 30, Orwigsburg Ambulance Inc., 500 E. Market St., Orwigsburg, has become part of Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven Area EMS, which has locations at 320 N. Ninth St., Pottsville, and 480 Haven St., Schuylkill Haven, according to Patrick Moran, the education and community outreach coordinator for the latter.

"Now a higher level of care is available for our residents in Orwigsburg and not traveling from some distance," said Wayne Lutsey, who was president of the Orwigsburg Ambulance Board of Directors that dissolved April 30.

Since then, the organizations have been taking steps to merge. The process will take from nine months to a year, and it will include the development of a new name, Moran said Friday.

"A new regional name will be adopted in the coming months," said Edward Keyworth III, who served as a member of the board of directors for both ambulance services and is on the current board.

"Until we come up with that, you can refer to us as the Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven/Orwigsburg Area EMS," Moran said.

"You need an acronym," Lutsey said.

Founded in 1948 as Orwigsburg VFW Community Ambulance Service, Orwigsburg Ambulance had 15 per diem employees, two ambulances and a wheelchair van.

"We were basic life support staffed by EMTs. And we responded to about 1,500 calls a year," Lutsey said.

Founded in 1947 as The Lions Ambulance, Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven Area EMS was established in 2001. Prior to April 30, it had 45 full-time employees and five per diem, eight ambulances, a sport utility vehicle and two wheelchair vans.

"We respond to about 12,000 calls a year," Moran said.

"We've worked together for several years. Orwigsburg Ambulance was what was called BLS, Basic Life Support. Our staff was trained to an EMT level. Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven Area EMS is ALS, Advanced Life Support, and those folks are trained as paramedics and can provide a higher level of care," Lutsey said.

"So, depending on how 911 would describe the call, we might respond as BLS. Or if it was a more critical situation," Lutsey said.

"Anything that could be potentially life-threatening," Moran interjected.

"You'd add the Advanced Life Support service," Lutsey said.

"And the EMS unit would meet up with the BLS unit from Orwigsburg," Moran said.

"What we were seeing is about six out of every 10 911 calls were coded as ALS, which meant we were responding with an ambulance and two people and they were meeting us with an ambulance and two people, and you had this inefficiency of two ambulances and four people involved for the benefit of the patient," Lutsey said.

"With a very set pay rate through Medicare and insurance. So we're not getting paid extra for sending two ambulances and four people. We were both losing money on calls," Keyworth added.

The organizations have been discussing the proposed merger for five years, and a feasibility study was conducted by the Eastern PA EMS Council in 2011, according to Lutsey.

"It was an operational and billing assessment. It was done gratis," Lutsey said.

"It's part of their job," Moran said.

"We went through a lot of meetings. It was very in depth," Keyworth said.

"And it renewed our interest in talking about a merger," Lutsey said.

The organizations were also encouraged by the EMS System Act of 2009, adopted October 11, 2013, Moran said.

"It encourages regionalization and written agreements with your neighbors, identifying with your neighbor and saying, 'Look, if we're going out of service I'm going to let you know so you can staff up just in case,' " Moran said.

In January 2013, Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven Area EMS signed a management agreement with Orwigsburg Ambulance, Lutsey said.

"We gave them human resource support, management oversight and policy and procedure assistance," Moran said.

The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General approved the merger in April, Moran said.

Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven Area EMS recently announced the merger to the communities served by the former Orwigsburg Ambulance Inc., which include the boroughs of Orwigsburg, Deer Lake and Landingville and the townships of North Manheim, South Manheim and West Brunswick.

"With regulatory approval recently received, the merger will ensure that Orwigsburg and the Southern Schuylkill Area is provided with the highest level of emergency care now and in the future. Emergency services will still be responding 24/7 from our current location in Orwigsburg. For the first time ever, ambulances will be staffed with paramedics providing advanced life support," according to the press release.

"In today's challenging economic times and with many ongoing changes to the health care laws, the board endeavored to keep Orwigsburg Ambulance financially sound and ready to meet the future," according to the release.

The former board of directors of Orwigsburg Ambulance Inc. was made up of Lutsey, Keyworth, Annella Leganza, Bill Reppy, Dave Mistishen, Heather Barrett, John Reiley, Robert S. Carl Jr., Scott Greenawalt, Theresa Pothering and Vic Muncy, according to Lutsey.

In the merger, three members of that board were chosen to be part of the newly formed board of directors for the Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven/Orwigsburg Area EMS: Carl, Reiley and Reppy. Keyworth was already a member of the board of Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven Area EMS.

The other members of the board are A. Matthew Dudish, chairman; Carl Raring, co-chairman; and members Michael O'Toole, Dick Fenstermacher, Angelo J. "Abe" Barone, Harry Rubright, Joseph Hammond and William C. Reiley.

On April 30, all of the assets of the Orwigsburg Ambulance Inc. were conveyed to Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven Area EMS, according to Lutsey.

This included the Orwigsburg Ambulance building at 500 E. Market St., which was built in 1998. The fair market value of the property is $288,779.20, but Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven Area EMS, listed in the deed as "The Pottsville Area Emergency Medical Services Inc.," acquired it for $1.

"In the deed agreement, it says if the board decides to move away from this building, it will revert back to the community, the Borough of Orwigsburg," Moran said.

Ten of Orwigsburg Ambulance's 15 per diem workers went to work for Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven Area EMS, according to Moran.

"All that applied were hired," Moran said.

As of April 30, Pottsville/Schuylkill Haven/Orwigsburg Area EMS has 50 full-time and 10 per diem employees, and a fleet of 10 ambulances, a sport utility vehicle and two wheelchair vans. The organization is planning to sell Orwigsburg Ambulance's used wheelchair van.

"Our service area primarily covers the southern end of Schuylkill County, from Saint Clair down to Port Clinton. But we assist other services in Schuylkill County," Moran said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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