Closure of Pa. ambulance service highlights EMS financial burdens
Jeannette EMS could face liquidation over a $140,800 loan and $100,000 grant
By Renatta Signorini
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Shuttered Jeannette EMS will have to repay a loan and grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture even as proposed state legislation to help the finances of ambulance agencies continues to work through the system.
Ambulance Association of PA Executive Director Heather Sharar said support from state legislators is a key factor in the sustainability of EMS providers.
Jeannette EMS ceased operations unexpectedly July 3.
“For every month they don’t help us, another EMS agency has the potential to close,” Sharar said.
Mutual Aid EMS has taken over coverage of Jeannette for the rest of 2023. Jeannette EMS was in business for 63 years. Director of Operations Randy Highlands previously pointed to insufficient funding and low insurance reimbursement rates as reasons for the closure. He could not be reached for comment.
In the weeks since the closing of the Jeannette service, KeyBank filed a mortgage foreclosure action in Westmoreland County court, claiming the ambulance station on South Sixth Street defaulted on line of credit repayments after the property was used as collateral to increase the funding to $275,000.
The line of credit was opened in July 1997 for $25,000 and ballooned over the years. A judgment against Jeannette EMS was issued July 13 to pay $339,904 to KeyBank for outstanding principal and interest and late fees, according to court filings.
In addition, Jeannette EMS is on the hook for a $140,800 loan and $100,000 grant that were used to purchase two new ambulances, according to USDA public affairs specialist Daniel Blottenberger. The funding was awarded in 2022 and 2023. The repayment amount for the grant will be based on a fair market value of the equipment.
“USDA will now work with (Jeannette EMS’) legal counsel to discuss their intentions,” he said. “Depending on their decisions, USDA would begin the liquidation process.”
It is unclear whether Jeannette EMS is working with an attorney and whether additional grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be in jeopardy. Jeannette EMS was awarded nearly $200,000 in assistance to firefighters grants between 2020 and 2022. The 2022 award was used to purchase 13 radios.
A FEMA spokesperson said July 26 that the agency had not been notified of a change in operating status for Jeannette EMS. Statewide, ambulance services are in similar dire straits, officials have said.
“This is an issue that has been building for years,” said Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Fayette.
There are a few pieces of legislation that have been brewing at the state level that could help chip away at the situation, Stefano and Sharar agreed.
One would have removed the requirement that an ambulance travel 20 miles before being reimbursed by Medicaid at $4 per mile, instead allowing reimbursement for an entire trip. It received bipartisan support in both chambers but fell victim to a contentious state budget vote. The legislation was reintroduced July 19 by state Reps. Lisa A. Borowski, D-Delaware County, and Greg Scott, D-Montgomery County.
“Clearly, the PA legislature is fully behind our EMS providers and committed to bringing immediate relief,” they said in a memo.
Sharar said another measure to address the mileage issue could be coming in the fall. Other pieces of proposed legislation include a tax credit of $2,500 for EMS personnel and firefighters and another that would allow the regionalization of ambulance agencies by letting counties create public safety authorities.
Higher Medicaid reimbursement rates took effect this year, boosting payments to EMS providers for certain trips and mileage after approval by lawmakers in 2022.
“That was a help,” Stefano said.
Local funding is an important issue, too, Sharar said. The city provided Jeannette EMS with $1,000 monthly, and that arrangement continues for Mutual Aid, making Jeannette the first municipality to provide direct financial support to the Greensburg-based agency.
Jeannette EMS averaged 1,800 calls annually. Mutual Aid serves 33 municipalities: 28 in Westmoreland County and five in Fayette. The agreement with the city will be reevaluated toward the end of the year.