Chesterton Tribune



Clock is ticking in race to find Burns Harbor ALS ambulance funding

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The Burns Harbor ALS ambulance service is looking for a big donor with deep pockets, and soon.

The town may look to its largest taxpayers, including ArcelorMittal, for help. About $150,000 to $200,000 is needed on a continuing basis annually.

Two residents spoke last night in support of ALS service and more were invited to voice their views at the council’s 7 p.m. monthly meeting Dec. 11.

Town Council member Mike Perrine said without an infusion of cash, it’s very likely the Fire Department’s advanced-life-support ambulance staffed by specially trained paramedics will be discontinued at year’s end.

“Our ALS has been excellent and the people who have worked for us have been outstanding,” he continued. “I’m absolutely convinced lives in this community have been saved because this service was available to us.”

Resident Debbie Lightfoot agreed. She said her family needed the ambulance six times this past year. “I have no doubt those guys saved my Mom’s life.” Lightfoot urged the service be continued if possible, and she voluteered to help collect outstanding ALS claims.

Perrine is the council’s liaison to the Fire Department. He said should ALS be discontinued, the town is investigating other options so ALS ambulance care is available to town residents through another public or private provider.

Porter County’s ALS service formerly responded to calls in Burns Harbor and still does as back-up, but occassional delays in Porter County’s response time prompted the town to begin its own ALS.

If Burns Harbor’s service ends, Perrine said at a minimum the Fire Department would continue to operate a basic-life-support ambulance, but volunteer firefighters could not perform advanced medical procedures or administer life-saving drugs like paramedics can.

Burns Harbor’s ALS was commissioned November, 2012 with a one-year trial period authorized by the council. As the deadline nears, Perrine said Thursday’s special meeting was called to address what --- if anything --- can be done to save ALS.

First-year revenue has not kept pace with what it takes to operate the 24/7 ambulance. Actual cost will be about $250,000 to $300,000 with most of that eaten up by salaries; collections from insurance providers and/or patients fell far, far short of what’s needed, Perrine explained.

ALS revenue to date is less than $50,000 with another $69,603 in accounts receivable. Councilman Greg Miller said the projected $213,507 net loss will have to come from the town’s general fund or its rainy day fund. “It’s only a matter of time until that level of loss will end it.”

From the audience, Vickie Geressy asked where ALS funding is coming from now.

For 2013 the Town Council committed $70,000 from a new hydrant fee on residents’ water bills as well as $60,000 from the Burns Harbor CEDIT fund, which is the town’s share of the Porter County income tax. Some of the ALS deficit will be covered by making cuts in the general-fund budgets of other town departments, said Perrine.

He and fire chief Bill Arney have been discussing alternatives should ALS service end. Arney later said he hadn’t done a lot of research for Thursday’s meeting because he didn’t know it had been called until reading an announcement Wednesday in the Chesterton Tribune.

Approximately 10 people attended the meeting, some of them firefighters.

During public comment former Burns Harbor fire chief Ray Poparad said he knows the value of local ambulance care and wants it to continue because waiting an extra 10 or 15 minutes in an emergency is a long time. “(ALS) is a viable service that should stay in place.”

Poparad also said as a former member of both the Burns Harbor Town Council and NOPAC, the board that started this county’s first professional ambulance service decades ago, he understands the funding challenges involved for government.

Perrine said he’s long supported Burns Harbor offering ALS service and it’s a disappointment it hasn’t paid its own way so far. He noted as the town grows it may make keeping ALS feasible with more paying calls available to fund it.

Councilman Jeff Freeze said even if ALS is discontinued, income from the fee Burns Harbor implemented is needed to pay Indiana American Water Co. for hydrant maintenance and residents will have to pay that recurring cost one way or another.

Council member Gene Weibl was absent Thursday.


Posted 11/22/2013