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Researchers determine approximate start-up costs for rural ambulance service

Research conducted by the University of Southern Maine found an approximate cost of $1.04M per year for an ambulance service in a low-volume area



By Bill Carey

PORTLAND, Maine — The University of Southern Maine EMS and the Maine Rural Health Research Center have released a research report on the estimated start-up and annual service costs for rural ambulance services.

Operating costs are a critical factor when local, state and federal governments consider how best to support their ambulance services. Previous studies have developed toolkits for estimating costs, but no studies addressed the actual costs associated with starting up and providing ambulance services.

An expert panel of ambulance service policy and operations experts, including three who have dedicated their careers to addressing rural EMS issues, established that ambulances could reasonably serve a maximum 25-minute travel time radius from the ambulance station that accounts for differences in primary road conditions.

The panel defined a minimum access standard as a single resource consisting of one full-time staffed ambulance, with a second ambulance on call and supported by a chief.

Based on this standard, the population density within an ambulance service area and the expected run volume, the panel established three population-based service tiers and estimated corresponding start-up and annual service costs.

Total annual budgets scale up from approximately $964,200 in 2020 dollars ($1.04 million in 2023 dollars) in low-volume service areas (with as few as 25 responses per year) to $2.09 million in 2020 dollars ($2.25 million in 2023 dollars) in high-volume service areas (with 1,500 - 2,200 responses per year).

Breakeven analyses suggest that low-volume agencies experience operating costs of approximately $41,500 (in 2023 dollars) per response, while high-volume agencies experience operating costs of roughly $1,020 per response.

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