Maintaining an ambulance service has become a conundrum for many small towns and rural communities. Adams County depends on West River Health Services (WRHS) to provide ambulance services, and according to WRHS CEO Matt Shahan, the hospital is in need of more drivers.
By Frank Turner
“…We are looking for as many [drivers] as we can,” said Shahan. “We only employ one full time driver, and everybody else either has another full time job in the community… or they are just on call for us.”
The hospital needs drivers that are local and close to the ambulance garage, because, to comply with state law, on-call responders have to be within ten minutes of the ambulance garage.
“…It’s not a crisis yet, but it’s getting to a point where we need drivers,” said Shahan, “We had a lot of drivers at one point a couple of years ago… It’s slowly dwindled down overtime… We just need more drivers and EMTs as well.”
Specifically, WRHS is looking for anyone in the local community willing to drive ambulance and train to become emergency responders, even if they already have fulltime jobs.
“We are pushing to have more of those first responders driving who are CPR certified that can help out and give a hand when out on a run.”
A lot of the current ambulance drivers work non-healthcare, fulltime jobs in the community. These drivers work a normal 40-hour work week while carrying a pager with them at all times, on call and ready to respond throughout the day. The hospital is relying on this kind of supplemental community involvement to keep the ambulance service cost-effective.
Shahan explained that manning an entire ambulance garage with full-time drivers simply isn’t possible for the rural hospital. According to Shahan, in a year, the ambulance service averages less than one ambulance run per day.
“The logistics of having people on the clock 24/7 just doesn’t work out… The costs continuously add up on it…” said Shahan, “You may go two days without a run and then you might have a day where there are five runs… That’s the difficult thing about staffing it.”
According to Shahan, most hospitals in the country do not usually own their own ambulance services due to high overhead costs.
“…The reimbursement is not good. In fact, we have been losing money on the ambulance every single year for quite a few years,” said Shahan.
“We are trying to get more community involvement to where somebody, at any business in town, can drop what their doing and be gone for hopefully only an hour on an ambulance run.”
WRHS is also beginning to look internally into its own departments for drivers, if the need arises.
Shahan said, “We are identifying departments and saying, ‘if we had to send you guys out for an hour and a half, [would] the rest of the hospital would survive?…’”
When asked where the future of the ambulance is headed, Shahan replied, “Right now that’s a quarter of a million dollar question, and I say that because that’s what… we will lose on the ambulance service this year. Of course, the hospital system is a big system and everything comes into one…”
A lot of the surrounding community hospitals keep their ambulance services alive by partnering with their counties. According to Shahan, WRHS does not have immediate plans to run a partnered ambulance service.
“We are not at that point yet, but that’s certainly in the future as rural volunteerism continues where it is at and where it seems to be going with the struggles of keeping such a service up. We may have to rely on the county or even the sheriff’s department to come up with some sort of partnership so we can continue having an ambulance,” said Shahan.
In the meantime, the hospital is looking to increase efficiency within the ambulance department and looking for more avenues to claim reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid.
For those who are interested in joining the ambulance crew, Shahan said that, given the right candidate, WRHS would consider paying for the schooling and training to become an EMT or possibly even a paramedic.
“If we found what we felt was the right candidate in that paramedic position, we would absolutely consider paying for that schooling,” said Shahan.
Interested individuals can read more details about the open EMT/driver application by visiting the WRHS website at www.wrhs.com/careers.