Washington County Ambulance Service appeals for emergency assistance
FAYETTEVILLE — Caught between rising costs and falling revenues, Central Emergency Medical Services is asking local governments for more than $1 million to help the agency through the end of the year.
The Washington County Regional Ambulance Authority’s board of directors, which oversees the operation of central emergency medical services, voted Aug. 3 to ask authority members to provide $1,043,178 in additional funding.
The total is divided among members based on the number of residents, with Washington County being asked to provide $545,140 and Fayetteville being asked to provide $357,454. The other cities‘ share of the requested funding ranges from $28,655 for Farmington to $1,750 for Winslow. Springdale provides its own ambulance service.
The Farmington and Lincoln city councils have already approved the ambulance service’s request. Lincoln’s award is $10,333. Prairie Grove City Council has heard the request but has yet to vote.
The cities and county provide an annual subsidy to the ambulance service to help offset operating costs. The grant in 2021 was $1,578,689 and in 2022 the annual grant was $1,605,838.
Steve Harrison, head of CEMS, said the service has an annual budget of about $15 million, with the bulk of revenue coming from Medicare payments, private insurance and individuals who use the service. Harrison said income from all of those sources has declined with changes in Medicare and Medicaid and private insurance reimbursement rates and with an increase in the number of people struggling to pay for the service on their own.
Harrison said the covid pandemic had contributed to the problem, as had the recent spike in inflation and supply chain issues.
“There are a lot of reasons for the shortfall,” Harrison said. “Obviously covid had a lot to do with it. At the worst of covid we were making calls and people were deciding they didn’t want to go to hospital. Sometimes they were afraid they’d get covid if they went at the hospital. the hospital, but if they didn’t want to go, we tried to treat them at home.”
“The way our service is run, if we don’t transport someone, most of the time we don’t charge for it,” Harrison said. “So we made the calls but if we didn’t transport them, there was no reimbursement. We can’t bill Medicare or Medicaid or insurance because we didn’t transport them.”
Harrison said the service had “relief funds” in reserve, but that began to dwindle in 2020 and 2021. As the pandemic continued, he said, the service also began to see a higher turnover among its 125 employees, which in turn increased costs. through overtime. He said the ambulance service responds to between 450 and 500 calls a week.
“Our normal turnover rate for a year was around 10%,” he said. “Last year it was about 24%. People are getting burnt out. They’re tired of covid. They’re tired of working overtime. Some of them have gone to other areas of the healthcare or emergency services where they have more We are a 24/7 service, 365 days a year They respond to all 911 calls.”
Harrison said the cost of medical supplies has increased from 40% to 65%. The recent increase in fuel prices has also hit the service hard.
“Our fuel bill more than doubled between late 2020 and mid-2022,” he said.