Struggling to survive, Pa. ambulance service asks communities for help
Costs and wait times are up and annual memberships are down as Superior Ambulance Service founder Doug Dick is trying to retain EMS providers
GROVE CITY, Pa. — The COVID-19 pandemic showed Doug Dick just how dedicated his ambulance crews are, but they are still stretched too thin.
"Now we're trying to fight to survive," he said of Superior Ambulance Service and Training Institute in Pine Township.
Dick, who founded the company in 1996, is the EMS chief. He recently started his 46th year in the field, and the challenges he's facing are unlike anything he's ever seen before.
"We're losing more people than we're training and recruiting," he said.
Costs and wait times are up, annual memberships are down, and Dick wants to be able to pay his staff what they deserve.
"It's a crisis of proportion across the commonwealth and across the country," Dick said.
He is seeking support from the 22 communities in four counties that Superior Ambulance serves, noting that the responsibility of providing emergency medical and fire services lies with the municipalities.
Discussions have been ongoing since late October. That's a good example of how things move forward when people are able to work together, Dick said.
The most recent discussion was held on Monday during a Grove City council work session, when officials shared ideas like a half-mill property tax hike to help Superior Ambulance.
Council members questioned the use of tax revenues for a private ambulance service.
The borough already purchases road materials and pipes for water lines from private businesses with tax money, which also helps fund state and local police and fire departments. Dick said it shouldn't be out of the question to partially support a private ambulance service that way.
It costs $750,000 a year to run one ambulance; Superior Ambulance has nine.
He also continues to educate people about emergency services and found that there are some misconceptions out there.
He surveyed 310 people, and 8 out of 10 said they thought that their tax dollars were already funding ambulance services.
The discussion keeps coming back to "money," and Dick knows he could attract more employees if he could offer better pay.
He can see why some people end up working in fast food; the pay is usually better and the training is limited compared to emergency services.
"And they don't have the chance of getting hit on the interstate," Dick said of dangerous situations they're called to.
He is proud of his team but is also worried about their mental and physical health because they've been working longer hours.
If they don't get more financial support soon, the services they're able to provide may have to be limited.
Dick isn't trying to scare anyone but said if EMS staff isn't prepared and ready to go because of lack of funds, the resulting death and morbidity would escalate.
Dick said he's seen tax hikes work for ambulance companies in other parts of the state and is hopeful that things are heading in the right direction for Superior Ambulance.
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