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.
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
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
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
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
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.