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Business picked up in the worst way for Citizens’ Ambulance Service in 2019.

It was the number of emergency calls (8,298) that kept the paramedics and EMTs busy, Citizens’ CEO BJ Pino said Wednesday.

That was a 6 percent increase in 911 dispatches to help people in need in the 1,100 square miles that the company serves in Indiana and surrounding counties.

The number of patients who needed to be transported to hospitals also increased over 2018, but only by 3.1 percent. It’s a roundabout way of saying the ambulance crews stabilized more people on the scene and averted a need for more serious medical intervention, but it was Pino’s way of explaining that Citizens’ had more calls for which it didn’t get paid for transporting patients.

Pino briefed the Indiana County board of commissioners at its year-opening business meeting Wednesday on the state of the area’s dominant ambulance service.

They remain at the top of their game, and for a second consecutive year earned the American Heart

Association’s Gold Award for fast, life-saving treatment of heart attack patients.

Pino credited area police departments, with officers trained in CPR and equipped with automated external defibrillation devices, and local fire departments, with volunteers responding to medical as well as fire calls, as Citizens’ associates in providing immediate care.

“I can tell you that there are five people that left the hospital on their own, in full capacity, because of the fine work of our EMTs and paramedics, but also because of the response of the network,” Pino said. “That partnership is working. It always has. But these are five wonderful examples of how a community coming together can indeed provide for the care of the people that live there.”

Pino fashioned his report as grounds for Citizens’ to deserve community support, especially in annual memberships to help sustain the service.

“Emergency medical services, the same as fire and police, are vital agents for the community,” he said. “It doesn’t happen simply by reimbursements and payments for the job you do. It requires public support. That support is available currently for emergency medical services via our membership program at Citizens’ Ambulance Service.”

But the number of subscribers has tailed off, he told the commissioners.

In the membership campaign that began in October, Pino said, Citizens’ has yet to match its 2018-19 total of 6,300 and is significantly short of its goal of 13,000 household memberships.

“To date we have only 5,762 households out of 40,000, and we only have 374 new households, which brings us to about 13.2 percent of all available households,” he said.

“People need to think about their civic duty, whether it be to volunteer with a fire department, to help in your community or, quite candidly, to reach into your pocket and financially support the vital public services that are here for you,” Pino said.

Commissioner Mike Keith said the board stood behind the ambulance company’s appeal and encouraged county residents to support the Citizens’ Ambulance Service membership appeal.

Pino said residents can sign up online at www.citizensambulance.org or visit the Citizens’ office near Indiana Regional Medical Center.

“Simply stop by and see us. We need that support. The plea is genuine; that’s all I really wanted to say,” he said.

In other business Wednesday, the commissioners:

• Authorized an extension of the deadline for spending grant funds from Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Recreation and Conservation until Dec. 31 for the construction of a bridge for hikers and bikers to cross Route 22 east of Blairsville in Burrell Township.

The extension required an amendment to the county’s contract with the state to accept the funds.

The project was twice delayed in 2019 by the Burrell Township board of supervisors’ refusal to grant a construction permit for the bridge based on the plan’s noncompliance with the township’s land use ordinance.

The county commissioners late last year filed an appeal to Indiana County Common Pleas Court, asking for a judge to order the township to grant the permit. The dispute is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing Feb. 14 before Judge William Martin.

• Hired the recently-retired courthouse facilities director, William Sink, as the project manager for the relocation of Magisterial District 40-2-01 Court from the courthouse annex along Water Street to North Fourth Street in Indiana.

Court Administrator Christy Donofrio said Sink would be paid an unspecified amount from the courts’ budget for 2020.

• Approved changes to two Community Development Block Grant-funded programs in the county, including reallocation of funds entitled to Burrell Township from the Marshall Heights storm water sewage system to the Campbells Mill and Falling Run roads water system extension project by Highridge Water Authority, and a shift of money between line items in the budget for the West Fourth Street improvement project in Aultman, Center Township.

• Approved a contract with the state to put a grant of $62,808 from the Keystone Communities Program toward the overall $337,808 cost of demolition of the former G.C. Murphy Building along East Market Street in Blairsville.

• Approved several resolutions for the administration of CDBG and HOME program funds under six contracts in the county.

• Approved a contract with Kathy Abbey-Baker as a health and human services consultant to the Indiana County Department of Human Services for $6,500, and a contract with Diann Overman as the Veterans Outreach Program consultant to be paid through a $10,000 grant to the Human Services department.

• Hired attorney Anthony Sottile III of Indiana as solicitor for the Armstrong-Indiana Behavioral and Developmental Health Program (BHDP). He succeeds Robert Manzi, who resigned after his election as Indiana County district attorney.

• Approved a transitional housing program contract between the BHDP and Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services Inc. from November 2019 to June 30, 2020, funded through the Community Hospital Integration Projects program at a rate of $182 per day per person assisted by the program.

• Authorized a series of contracts between Indiana County Children and Youth Services and various service providers, including Lola’s Early Care & Education Center, of Indiana; The Children’s Aid Home Programs of Somerset County Inc.; George Junior Republic of Pennsylvania, near Grove City, Mercer County; and Perseus House Inc., of Erie.