By Peter Becker
Pike County Advanced Life Support (PCALS) has closed their Milford station, consolidating paramedic service in western Pike and parts of Wayne County. The closure was based on increased competition as well as decline in municipal contributions, said Kyle Wright, PCALS Director.
Wright commented that although shutting down a station may have a negative twist, he remains optimistic and foresees further expansion of service in Wayne County.
PCALS has been in operation for 10 years. Before 2003 there were no paramedic companies based in Pike County to augment the basic life support (BLS) provided by local ambulance transport corps. In the last couple years, however, PCALS has faced mounting pressure from a much larger non-profit agency, Atlantic Ambulance Corporation, a subsidiary of Atlantic Health System.
Atlantic Health System, based in Morristown, NJ operates hospitals in Morristown, Overlook and Newton, NJ, as well as Goryeb Children's Hospital.
Atlantic Ambulance Corporation has been servicing eastern Pike County with ambulance transport and paramedic service.
"We're a Mom & Pop operation," Wright said. "It's hard to compete with a Fortune 500 company." He said that loss of coverage area is one of the biggest reasons PCALS closed the Milford station.
Atlantic Ambulance had also located in Milford. The Pike County Communications Center, Wright explained, will dispatch the unit from the nearest available station, and even a quarter mile closer will make a lot of difference.
PCALS vehicles use automatic vehicle locators which operate through G.P.S. and is used in Wayne County to summon the closest available vehicle. Wright said that Pike County does not use this system. In addition to being designated by Hawley Borough as their first response ALS company, PCALS has had an increasing number of calls in other parts of Wayne County because their unit happened to be closest to the emergency.
Municipalities in eastern Pike County that have either designated Atlantic over PCALS, or cut funding, have hurt PCALS' ability to serve in that region, he noted.
What began as an internal matter in their organization became public when a video was posted on YouTube of a PCALS driver in one of their units playing loud music and apparently singing. The matter was raised at a Shohola Township Supervisors' meeting earlier this year. Wright said that the issue was handled internally, and the two employees involved were disciplined. He said that the video posting may have been a factor in losing some support.
Wright stated that this was an isolated incident and since they started operating in 2003, this had not been an issue.
Shohola Township was one of the municipalities that switched to Atlantic this year.
As Atlantic advanced in the eastern Pike region, PCALS' call volume in that section also reduced, he said. He stated there is still concern over whether Atlantic will continue to squeeze them further.
Page 2 of 2 - Wright added that on the field they work well with Atlantic Ambulance crews. "We all have to work together," he said.
In Pike County, PCALS still serves in Lackawaxen, Palmyra-Pike and Greene Townships as well as part of Blooming Grove Township. They have relocated their office from Milford to their Greeley station. They also maintain a station in Palmyra Twp.-Pike near Hawley.
They were able to maintain the same level of staffing, which is approximately 20, and the number of response vehicles.
PCALS has both a paid staff and core of volunteers.
They are one of the few "Mom & Pop" emergency medical response organizations left, he said. Honesdale Ambulance used to be another. Last year Honesdale was bought out by Wayne Ambulance. On July 26, an agreement was signed by Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton, to purchase Wayne Ambulance. Moses Taylor is owned by the medical conglomerate Commonwealth Health, which owns a large part of the medical services in the Scranton- Wilkes-Barre region.
"The dynamics are changing," said Wright, "Healthcare organizations are growing." He noted that PCALS is sandwiched between two of them.
While their financial condition has been a struggle since "Day One," Wright said, he is optimistic that by consolidating, PCALS is in a better position to continue to serve patients in the area. "We were being proactive," he said.
As a not-for-profit organization, PCALS conducts fund-raising activities such as the recent tricky-tray event at Wallenpaupack Area High School.
Most of their funding comes from insurance company reimbursements. Wright said that if a patient meets federal poverty guidelines and has no insurance, the bill is waived. They also have a monthly payment plan for certain other cases where they don't meet the poverty line but lack insurance.
Patients who are paid subscribers to PCALS services do not have to pay the portion of the bill not covered by insurance, he said.
Wright stated that it comes down to the fact regardless of their ability to pay, "they are still our neighbors."