Public Hearing to be held to discuss Johnsburg Ambulance District

At the Johnsburg Town Board Meeting on July 15th the Members voted unanimously to hold a public hearing to discuss the formation of an Ambulance District, similar in structure to the current Fire Protection Districts. The proposed District would encompass the Town of Johnsburg and would give the Emergency Medical Squad the right to contract with the town an annual fee for services. Currently the Emergency Squad is provided $65,000 every year from the town’s General Fund, or 15% of the squad’s operating budget.

Johnsburg’s former President, Kelly Nessle, made a presentation to the Board, describing the Ambulance District Plan as the only way to safeguard the squad’s future. She demonstrated the many ways Johnsburg Emergency Squad has cut costs and increased its billing revenue, but she also showed the limits to growth in the years ahead. Patient billing accounts for three quarters of the Emergency Squad’s revenue, but for the past ten years the amount of patients has remained consistently under 500 per year. She also pointed out the many of these patients are insured by Medicaid and Medicare, which consistently pay less than the cost to the squad of transporting that patient.

Mrs. Nessle pointed out that through careful management, fund raising and grant writing the squad has met its needs so far, including paying for a new van ambulance, and a mortgage on its building, but she also showed the problems that lie ahead. In 2004 the squad began billing in order to pay advance life support technicians to be on call 24 hours a day, but it’s become more and more difficult to recruit and retain paramedics when they receive no benefits and can make more money working elsewhere.

She also showed the difficulties in retaining volunteers, who still do an essential amount of work for the squad. She estimated that in the past ten years volunteers have contributed an amount of labor equivalent to two and a half million dollars. Currently there are twelve volunteers active with the squad, and that number continues to shrink. Volunteers, she said, are still the ones that get up in the middle of the night to drive for a three hour call, and go to trainings, and review the billing and do the payroll and take care of the ambulances, and order the supplies…

Mrs. Nessle, who resigned as President in May, stated the difficulty in finding another volunteer to take her place. “You can’t expect a person to run a half million dollar business for free, not with all the responsibility and time involved, managing 20-25 people, negotiating with insurance companies, reviewing all the billing, a business in charge of saving people’s lives.” She said the proposed Ambulance District was the only way to pay part time management, recruit and retain qualified caregivers, and safeguard the squad from future loss of volunteers. The average household is currently paying about $2.59 per month in taxes for their ambulance service. She stated the proposed district would ask that same homeowner to pay an additional $5.70 a month. “That total is less than a pack of cigarettes,” she said, “or a takeout pizza…It’s an investment of love.”

The public hearing for the Ambulance District proposal is scheduled for August 12th at 7pm at the Tannery Pond Community Center.