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Honesdale assesses ambulance services

Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that Commonwealth Ambulance had a contract with the Honesdale Borough and that the town was losing that contract. This was incorrect, and a quote from Commonwealth Ambulance spokesperson has been added to clarify. Additionally, the headline read that Honesdale was in danger of losing its ambulance service. This was imprecise and has been updated. The article has been updated with quotes from Honesdale emergency management coordinator Stan Pratt and Commonwealth to reflect the correct information.

HONESDALE, PA — It’s ironic that a place with its own Level IV trauma center (Wayne Memorial Hospital) and medical heliport now faces a decrease in ambulance services that deliver patients to and between them. But that was the situation described by Honesdale emergency management coordinator Stan Pratt to the Honesdale Borough Council at its January 14 meeting.

While giving a brief history of commercial ambulance service in the borough, Pratt noted that the longtime borough-based service, Honesdale Ambulance, was driven out of business by a competitor that subsequently found the borough an unprofitable place to operate. Pratt said the increase of volunteer ambulance services in rural areas nationwide was due to the same phenomenon. “Rural areas just don’t provide the same level of business that commercial ambulance services find in urban and suburban areas,” said Pratt.

Although volunteer ambulance services now provide high quality emergency medical care, most struggle to find enough volunteers for 24/7 staffing and all face staggeringly high overhead costs. Moreover, many are located at a considerable distance from the borough. So, what are the options?

Several commercial ambulances serve the area, including Commonwealth Ambulance and Cottage Hose Company Ambulance Service, based in Carbondale.There is also Samaritan EMS, based in Tobyhanna.

"Commonwealth Health Emergency Medical Services has no plans to leave Honesdale or any part of Wayne County," said Commonwealth spokesperson Renita Fennick, in an email. "Wayne County follows the closest available unit dispatch protocol for 911 coverage. If we get the call in Honesdale and we have a unit available and are the closest unit, we will respond."

Pratt said that response times can be long for true emergency calls, due to the fact that there is not a dispatch center located within the borough.

"The concern is that the coverage has been decreasing in this area," Pratt said in an interview after the meeting. "Essentially, there have been longer and longer delays to get ambulance transports and companies coming in from further away. The companies that reside in Wayne County are essentially volunteer organizations... the call volumes keep going up but the number of volunteers aren't."

Pratt asked the council, missing three of its members (Bill Canfield, Travis Rivera and Tim Lauffenburger), to mull the options before them and take the question up at its next meeting, on January 28 at 6 p.m. "We are concerned because the ambulance presence that we're seeing in Honesdale Borough is not what it used to be," he said after the meeting. "The goal is to meet with the people and try to come up with a way to ensure service."

Before Pratt left the podium, DPW director Rich Doney brought to his attention the fact that there is no emergency traffic plan in the event of fires on Main and Church Streets. Council appointed an ad hoc committee, comprised of Pratt, Doney, police chief Rick Southerton, and fire chief Steve Bates, to work with the Streets Committee to remedy that situation.

Pratt left the building before another topic in his bailiwick cropped up later in the meeting: the borough’s workplace insurance carrier is urging the borough to add a terrorism/active shooter rider to its current policy. The recommendation comes as numerous acts of violence are occurring in municipal offices and meeting places throughout the country.

Borough secretary-manager Judy Poltanis said the provision, if added, would insure all borough properties—borough hall, police department offices and DPW garages—against assault with firearms, explosives and other weapons of destruction. Coverage would provide reimbursement for business interruption and property damage.

Council president Mike Augello said it was an important and expensive decision that deserved the attention of the full council. He recommended postponing action until the full council could consider it at the January 28 meeting.

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In Response to the River Reporter article, Stanton Pratt wrote the following letter:

At one time there were mostly local volunteer ambulance organizations to provide patient transport to hospitals in the region.  Over the years the quality of care offered by these local volunteer groups improved tremendously until today most offer the same level of care as the large paid organizations at the EMT level or for Basic Life Support.

Over the years the number of calls for assistance has increased while at the same time the number of Volunteers has decreased presenting tremendous challenges for the small groups of dedicated highly trained volunteers serving their communities.

Paid Ambulance Services have long served metropolitan areas of the country similar to the way paid fire departments have.  As the call volume in rural areas increased, a number of paid ambulance services began to fill some of the need in these rural areas.  These organizations are not only providing basic life support (BLS) service around the clock using a paid staff of EMT's, they are also able to in many cases to provide Advanced Life Support by staffing some of their ambulances with paramedics.   This coverage is expensive to provide in any area, particularly in rural areas.

The purpose of my presentation to Honesdale Borough Council was to inform them of an increase in the wait time for potential patients within the Borough of Honesdale and to offer to work with the safety committee to find some economically workable way improve the situation for area residents.

I also want to clarify that Commonwealth Health, which is one of the services  currently providing coverage in Honesdale and Wayne County, it is not the organization which went head to head with the old Honesdale Ambulance. That privately owned service was sold to Commonwealth some time after the demise of Honesdale Ambulance.

My presentation to the board was in no way related to any contract between any provider or the expiration of such a contract as your paper originally reported. There are no contracts between the Borough of Honesdale and any EMS provider and to the best of my knowledge have not been any for many years if ever.

 

 

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