Pa. EMS report points to ambulance service success as a model for others
The Penn Township Ambulance Association has been successful in dealing with funding, staffing and cost-reimbursement problems
By Quincey Reese
PENN TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Penn Township’s ambulance service is “ahead of the curve” and could be a model for others across the state, according to a recent EMS report.
The report took four to five months to complete, said presenter Ken Hellendall, a peer consultant for the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
Despite the challenges being faced by EMS departments across the country, Hellendall said Penn Township’s ambulance service, Rescue 6, has evaded many of these problems.
"(There is) no sustainable funding, (a) critical workforce shortage, (and a) below-cost reimbursement across the state — but not in Penn Township,” Hellendall said at the meeting. “You are doing very well at all these things.”
The ambulance service covers 30.76 square miles and a population of about 19,000, Hellendall said. It averages eight calls a day, said Ed Grant, the service’s director of operations.
The state standard for ambulance response times includes 14 minutes to get to the scene, 30 minutes to arrive at the hospital and an hour to finish responding to the call, Hellendall said.
Penn Township’s service, he said, arrives at the scene in 8 minutes, gets to the hospital in 22 minutes and completes calls in 56 minutes, on average.
“That is commendable,” Hellendall said. “It shows that the supervisors and staff are doing a good job of working together.”
Lack of staffing is also a hurdle ahead of EMS departments in the state, with many services losing up to 87% of staff. Hellendall attributed this primarily to aging employees and young people moving away for college.
Though Penn Township has sufficient ambulance staffing, Hellendall suggested the addition of one — and eventually two — more crews to make up for the failing services in nearby areas.
“Right now, you are doing your max with the staff you have,” Hellendall said. “You are going to need to increase that as it moves forward because my guess is if I come back in a year, probably one other ambulance service in this area is going to shut down.”
Jeannette EMS, for example, closed without notice July 3. Penn Township and Mutual Aid covered the city for 10 days until Jeannette council approved an agreement with Mutual Aid to provide ambulance service through the end of 2023.
Grant expressed gratitude to the township and the community for their support.
“The people that choose this work do it predominantly for fulfillment, such as I have for 33 years in Penn Township at Rescue 6. Thank you for your support,” Grant said at the meeting. “As long as we have this community behind us to help us and support us, we are helping lives every day.”
Penn Township’s service is well-funded, but Hellendall suggested working to increase contributions from the community to update the ambulance station or construct a new building if the current one is lost to the Route 130 Pennsylvania Turnpike interchange.
The turnpike commission in October 2021 announced an interchange will be built at Route 130. It remains unclear exactly where the interchange will be placed and when construction will start, but the commission anticipates work will not be finished before 2026.
Penn Township received a 33% response to an ambulance subscriber newsletter, which provides deals on EMS services and benefits the ambulance.
Hellendall said this is the average rate of response across the state. Commissioner Chuck Konkus said this is “unacceptable.”
“Ed Grant busts his butt to give us the service we have at Rescue 6,” Konkus said at the meeting. “It’s so sad to think how most homeowners pay $200 a month for a cellphone bill or homeowners pay $200 a month for a cable bill, but the return on a fundraising letter is as terrible as what it is.”
Penn Township police Chief John Otto commended Grant on a job well done.
“Ed is one of those people who has been committed — and when I say committed, I don’t mean he has come to work for 33 years,” Otto said. “He has dedicated his life to professional EMS, and for it to be recognized throughout the state and want to be duplicated across the state, I think is truly a testament to who he is and what he has done for a long, long time.”
Hellendall said the commissioners have been invited to speak about the success of the ambulance service at a statewide conference of township commissioners.
“I can tell you, I will use Penn Township as an example when working with other places,” Hellendall said. “It’s that good. You have a team, and it’s a good team.”