Chesterton Tribune

Chesterton Fire Department makes case for providing its own ambulance service

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It would cost an estimated $231,187 in upfront costs to outfit the Chesterton Fire Department with the vehicle and equipment necessary to run its own ambulance service, independent from the one currently provided by Porter hospital.

It would cost a further annual $334,960 to pay for the extra personnel needed: a billing clerk, two paramedics, and two firefighters/EMTs.

But—depending on the price charged to patients by the CFD for the service, and the level of insurance and Medicaid reimbursement—the town service could pay for itself in a number of years, with potential surplus revenues on the low end of $50,000 and on the high end of $140,000.

Those are the conclusions of a feasibility study presented by Deputy Fire Chief John Jarka at Monday’s meeting of the Town Council.

Fire Chief Mike Orlich opened the presentation by noting that the CFD’s interest in pursuing its own ambulance service should in no way be interpreted to reflect poorly on the service right now provided by Porter hospital. He did note, however, that the Porter County Commissioners’ contract with Porter hospital expires at the end of the year, the two parties have been reported to be in negotiations, and it can’t be definitively said at the moment whether Porter hospital will continue to provide that service.

In any case, Orlich said, the CFD “is very customer oriented. We’re all about taking care of our own. . . . Porter (hospital) provides a great service but we want to take care of our own.”

The larger point, though, as Jarka noted, is that more than two-thirds of all CFD calls every year—an average of 68 percent of them since 2007—are “patient-contact calls,” very many of them EMS assists, for which it receives no reimbursement at all.

The CFD “currently dedicates one engine vehicle and four firefighters (24/7) to EMS,” Jarka said. “This commitment means that many of the costs associated with operating a transport service, such as manpower, supplies, and vehicle operation are already assumed by the department. For example, a majority of the department’s personnel are certified emergency medical technicians, while one other is a certified paramedic. To maintain such certification, the (CFD) already pays for continued education and certification.”

Based on the fees charged by other fire departments, and data provided on the percentage of claims actually collected on, the CFD could potentially collect $379,280.63 (for 75-percent collection, in the Town of Chesterton only), if it charged $650 per advanced life support call, $500 for basic life support call, and $8.25 per mile.

That revenue would increase to $474,193.13 if the CFD responded to EMS calls in Westchester Township, Jarka added.

Jarka didn’t sugarcoat the costs involved: an ambulance would cost $160,000; medical equipment $40,751; and miscellaneous equipment (like fuel, laptop computer, etc.) $30,436, for a total upfront investment of $231,187.

The CFD would also need to hire a billing clerk, two paramedics, and two firefighter/EMTs to operate the service, for an additional annual cost of $334,960.

Chesterton would by no means be the only municipality in Northwest Indiana operating its own ambulance service. Already doing so are Valparaiso, Portage, St. John, Schererville, Lake of Four Seasons, Crown Point, and TriCreek in the Lowell area.

“We’d like to operate our own ambulance service,” Jarka concluded. “We think it’s financially feasible.”

The feasibility study was prepared, over the course of a year, by a committee comprised of Jarka, Capt. Jamieson Hicks, Lt. Aimee Gilbert, and Firefighter Kevin LaDuke.

The council took the proposal under advisement but generally appeared to like what it heard. Member Jim Ton, R-1st, for his part, observed that, when Saint Anthony Memorial Hospital opens its 24-hour emergency department on Indian Boundary Road, the CFD would have a much closer trip to make than Porter hospital’s new facility in Liberty Township and that the turnover time would be accordingly lessened.

Town Manager Bernie Doyle took a moment later in the meeting to endorse the proposal in principle.


Posted 7/26/2011