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New Pa. EMS headquarters allows drop-in community paramedicine services

Through the new quarters, Lancaster EMS highlights the increasing calls for service and a desire to increase engagement with community services

By Dan Nephin

LANCASTER, Pa. — By the end of the year, Lancaster EMS should have its new headquarters, formerly AMVETS Post 19, up and running in the southern end of Lancaster city.

Centralizing its operations will make for a more efficient agency, according to Bob May, executive director of the county’s largest emergency medical services provider.

May gave LNP — LancasterOnline a tour of the building at 715 Fairview Ave. on May 13 to show the agency’s progress and vision ahead of National EMS Week, which is this week.

There’s not much to see now, as weeks worth of interior demolition is expected to wrap up soon. Once the agency obtains the necessary permits from the city, renovations and construction will begin, probably in June or July, May said.

Lancaster EMS bought the building for $1.95 million in August 2022 and expects to spend another $6 million for architectural work, engineering, site development, renovations and construction, which Heck Construction of Denver is doing.

Lancaster EMS serves 21 of the county’s 60 municipalities and provides mutual aid to other agencies. It expects to respond to more than 52,000 calls this year, an average of more than 140 calls per day.

The call volume has been growing at a rate of about 5% a year. Some of that is population-driven and “the graying of America,” May said. Lancaster EMS also moves people between health systems.

“We are out-of-county almost every day. We’re out of state a couple times a week moving patients. We move a lot of mental health patients for beds. We move critical care patients to tertiary care. We move patients out of the hospital to skilled nursing facilities,” May said. And given Lancaster’s tourism industry, some of the people it moves are injured tourists who want to return home.

Size and location

The Fairview Avenue property is ideal in size and location, May said. The roughly 4-acre property will allow Lancaster EMS to create about 100 parking spots. A core of about 30 employees will work there.

When complete, the first floor of the two-story building will provide space for the agency’s training — it runs an academy for new paramedics three times a year — and house its growing community paramedic program.

County property records list the building at 6,400 square feet and May said a two-story addition of 2,400 square feet will be built.

In addition to responding to 911 calls, Lancaster EMS provides community paramedicine, which is the proactive side of the EMS coin.

“911 goes off, we react,” May said, but “if we go out for the same patient every week for the same problem, that’s a failure of the system.”

Community paramedics see patients in their homes to try to help them not have to call 911 in the first place by giving them other options, May said.

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For example, if a frequent user is discharged from the hospital and accepts community paramedic services, “we meet you at home, and we do a series of things to help keep you healthy in the home and keep you out of the hospital and getting readmitted every week.”

May said issues such as heart failure, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma lend themselves to community paramedicine.

“These are all common things that just keep recycling people back into the hospitals,” which is costly, May said.

Though Lancaster EMS provides community paramedicine for free, it has contracts to provide the service with about a half-dozen entities, including Penn Medicine and some Medicaid providers, May said.

The new location will allow people to drop in for services, such as homeless people in the community who staff check on now, or people wanting vaccines.

“We want to be a place where, if they’re in the area, they can drive or walk here and we can do a patient engagement,” May said. “A good example would be when someone stops in and he needs a blood pressure check or needs a vaccine.”

Now, some clients go to the agency’s East Lampeter Township location to have their children vaccinated.

“So we want that engagement. If there ever is another pandemic, we have a place to do vaccines,” May said.

Its mobile hygiene unit, or shower trailer, will also be at the new site.

Lancaster EMS’ community paramedic program went from one person about a half-dozen years ago to 28 now, May said.

“We have no room anymore. So that’s one of the reasons we bought this,” May said.

And while the new headquarters will serve as a base for interfacility transports and wheelchair van services, May said, ambulances won’t be dispatched from there for 911 calls. They are dispatched from 11 locations throughout its coverage area.

Fleet maintenance will move from the agency’s Columbia Avenue Station, at 2650 Columbia Ave. in Manor Township, to Lancaster, and its two mechanics will work in a 9,100-square-foot garage to be built there. Lancaster EMS has about 60 vehicles. An ambulance will remain at the Columbia Avenue location, which the agency leases.

Administrative services, including Information technology and accounting, will move to Lancaster from its East Lampeter and Millersville Borough locations.

Paying for it

To pay for it all, Lancaster EMS plans to use proceeds from selling its Millersville location at 100 E. Charlotte St. — which is listed at $785,000 — takes out a low-interest loan from the state that’s available to EMS and fire agencies, uses some of its savings and embarks on a capital campaign, though the specific goal of the campaign has not been determined, May said.

Lancaster EMS will keep its ambulance service in the borough and move to Millersville University’s police department at 237 N. George St. It also plans to continue running its ambulance out of East Lampeter ( 1829 Lincoln Highway East ) and hold on to the property for potential future growth.

AMVETS closed in February 2022 after the veteran-focused social organization struggled with finances. It had been at the location since late 1993.

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