HOMER CITY — The ones who give, literally, will get, figuratively.
Homer City borough council leaders Tuesday pledged a financial shot in the arm for the area’s dominant emergency medical response agency, Citizens’ Ambulance Service.
How much monetary aid will be decided later. Council members will crunch their numbers first.
At the ambulance service, their numbers already have been crushed. They have been for years. Citizens’ entered this year expecting to operate more than $1 million in the red.
Citizens’ leaders this week embarked on a town-by-town tour in a quest for dollars that will be doubled, if contributed by the boroughs and townships in the ambulance service area. A week ago, White Township leaders offered to match the first $50,000 that other municipalities donate to the ambulance company.
CAS leaders told of rising costs, tight-fisted insurance companies, dwindling numbers of household memberships and a culprit that local elected officials find all too familiar.
“Unfunded mandates,” Senior Operations Manager Mike Dunn told Homer City council members. “One of the most recent federal mandates required us to install stretcher mounts in our medic units.”
The stabilizing features have been required in all ambulances built since 2015. Citizens’ retrofitted all of its medic units to assure patient and paramedic safety, Dunn said. “That was a $192,000 expense that we weren’t expecting.”
Pennsylvania Department of Health dictates what equipment and supplies must be aboard any ambulance that leaves any of Citizens’ six stations in Indiana County, “right down to the last Band-Aid,” Dunn said. “All this equipment you see comes to end-of-life. We have to repurchase it. Some that we don’t use expires and we have to purchase more. It’s an endless cycle.”
Dunn’s colleagues told of the costs of the life-saving equipment and communication technology stocked by the company. Paramedics Steven Zolocsik, Adam Lightcap and Chad Dill, EMT Maggie McLoughlin and Director of Operations Randy Thomas gave council a crash course in the ambulance company’s investments. Nowadays, a single stretcher alone costs $15,000.
The crew brought an ambulance to the borough office building, set up tables spread with vital equipment and made their appeal as council members gathered with them in the parking lot.
The common thread through Citizens’ pitch to Homer City leaders and that delivered Monday to the Center Township supervisors was the “cost of readiness,” Dunn explained, “to do what we do 24/7/365.”
Beyond the dollar figures, Citizens’ CEO Bruno J. Pino said, was the dedication of people on CAS crews.
“You can’t put a price tag on that,” Pino said.
Few introductions were needed Tuesday. The presentation was serious yet light, but well understood. One would think Citizens’ Ambulance Service is headquartered in Homer City. Dunn, McLoughlin, Thomas and Citizens’ board President Bill Staffen all are borough residents. So are Citizens’ board members Rob Walbeck and Tae Ayers. Borough Secretary Karen Valyo is a former paramedic. Councilman Joe Iezzi Sr. has served decades on the Homer City fire company, which is one of four Indiana County departments whose firefighters double as immediate medical responders. They get dispatched the same time as the ambulance and often render first emergency care to patients.
Iezzi, who presided over council’s monthly meeting in the absence of President Kenneth “Cal” Cecconi, promised that the borough would help.
“We will definitely partner with them and do all we can to help,” Iezzi said. Council members briefly pondered whether federal coronavirus pandemic aid to the borough could be funneled to Citizens’ but Solicitor Michael Supinka advised that it doesn’t appear to be an eligible expense.
The borough and other municipalities in the county have until Dec. 31 to donate money that would qualify for matching funds from White Township.