LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — Lancaster County Commissioners voted to grant $375,000 in federal COVID-19 funds to the newly created Municipal Emergency Services Authority of Lancaster County (MESA).
“The government is simply providing some startup money to help them because we recognize it is a problem and we recognize here’s a group of municipalities coming together to try to solve this problem,” said Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons.
The move follows the announcement that Northwest EMS will close once MESA is up and running sometime in early 2024. Northwest EMS had run at a deficit for six years.
MESA is a coalition of eight municipalities in northwest Lancaster County that will service the area previously covered by Northwest EMS. The initiative is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, in which every property owner in those towns will be required to pay a yearly fee to support emergency medical services.
“The government is simply providing some startup money to help them because we recognize it is a problem and we recognize here’s a group of municipalities coming together to try to solve this problem.
Northwest EMS is far from the only EMS service facing economic headwinds amid rising operating costs and limited insurance reimbursements.
“EMS is in crisis. Funding sources outside of just reimbursements through insurance is necessary,” said Jerry Shramm, director of operations at Lancaster EMS. “I think it’s starting to get some attention but I think there’s still some strides that need to be made.”
Shramm applauded Lancaster County’s decision to put federal dollars toward emergency medical services but stressed the need for a continuing, stable source of funding.
That need has already come to the attention of state lawmakers. State Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford) has introduced several bills designed to provide long-term funding solutions.
One bill would allow counties to use the $5 vehicle registration fee toward EMS rather than local bridges.
Another would allow counties to use hotel tax funds toward EMS rather than to promote tourism.
A third bill would reinstate a state-level licensing exam rather than a federal exam, which is harder to pass because it covers topics not applicable in Pennsylvania.
In a House Republican Policy Committee hearing on first responders in February, EMS officials warned a lack of EMTS and medics was pushing the system to the brink of collapse across the Commonwealth. They said more funding was needed to ease staff shortages.
“That’s how bad it is,” Rep. Crawford said. “People are routinely waiting 45 minutes or an hour for an ambulance. Part of solving the crisis is to pay the responders a decent wage so people want to do it.”