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Weatherly ambulance discusses future

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    Lorraine Labor, operations manager for Weatherly Ambulance, addresses a town hall meeting Wednesday night. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS

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    Lorraine Labor, operations manager for Weatherly Ambulance, addresses a town hall meeting Wednesday night. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS

Published October 11. 2018 12:38PM

 

Carol Eroh has wondered since her husband’s death, whether a local ambulance could have saved his life. When he suddenly fell ill, the Weatherly Ambulance was unavailable, and they had to wait for one to come from Hazleton.

“I want to make sure something like that doesn’t happen to anybody else,” she said.

That’s why she showed up Wednesday night at a town hall meeting to discuss the future of the local ambulance, which covers the borough and three surrounding townships.

Weatherly Ambulance’s operations manager says the organization is losing about $75,000 per year, and it only has enough cash on hand to operate through the next year.

It is thinking of eliminating coverage on weeknights to help balance the budget.

The cost of running the ambulance has continued to increase, and the amount that insurance companies, especially Medicaid, pay back hasn’t kept up.

It has led other small ambulance companies to close their doors.

Residents are concerned about the prospect of losing their ambulance.

“I don’t know what we would do without an ambulance. I don’t want to wait,” said councilwoman Theresa D’Andrea, who also serves on the ambulance’s board of directors.

The ambulance company sends out 2,400 membership applications each year, but they estimate that only 30 percent of the households in the area actually purchase them. Memberships are $25 — but they can be worth a lot more when an emergency happens. Without one, the customer is left picking up the rest of the bill.

If the membership cost was raised to $50, they would still need to sell one to every household in Weatherly as well as Packer Township, Lehigh Township and Lausanne Township.

Many customers said they would be willing to pay more to sustain the ambulance, but there are no definite plans to add an ambulance tax.

“I feel the tax has to come from the borough, and the surrounding townships, to maintain our ambulance, and pay you people more money, because you’re well worth it,” said Beth Parker.

The state limits the ambulance tax to one-half mill for a borough. For Weatherly, that would only create $13,000. And there is no guarantee that the other three municipalities would add an ambulance tax. They weren’t part of Wednesday’s meeting.

They can raise the tax higher, but it requires voters to approve a referendum.

Some residents wondered if there is a way to get the rest of the town, people who do not currently have memberships, to help fund the ambulance in some way.

“I would bet that most of us here constitute the 30 percent who have paid. There has to be some way of tapping the other 70 percent who have not,” Eroh said.

Some suggested putting a charge on the borough utility bills, so renters and owners would pay it, but the borough solicitor, James Nanovic, said that would violate state law.

Parker said if people don’t buy memberships, the ambulance shouldn’t take them. She said she even paid a membership for her father, who receives hospice care and does not want to be taken to a hospital if there is an emergency.

“We appreciate your support. Unfortunately for us to call and say we’re not going to take somebody, we’re going to jail for that, and losing our license,” said Lorraine Labor, operations manager for the ambulance.

Labor said the ambulance would be on better footing if it had 1,000 calls per year, but it does not.

It costs about $15,950 to run the ambulance each month. The ambulance only brings in about half of that.

Of that $13,000 goes toward paying employees wages, and can’t be cut if they want to continue to offer full-time coverage.

For serious calls, they must split any money with an ALS company, which has more advanced life support technology. Labor has tried to get an ALS truck for the company, but she said she’s been unsuccessful.

Resident Joseph Thomas suggested that a committee be formed of residents from each of the four municipalities to see if there are ways to raise money to keep the ambulance going.

Mayor Tom Connors said he doesn’t know if they can force people to purchase memberships, but they need to move forward.

“My feeling is we need 24/7, and I’m willing to pay more to get it. If you don’t agree with me, I’m open to suggestions,” Connors said.

 

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