Debate on paying for PMC ambulance service ongoing
Three entities - the city of Wayne, the Wayne Rural Fire Board and Providence Medical Center (PMC) - sat down Tuesday night to discuss how to pay for ambulance service for the community.
Earlier this year PMC sent notice to the city that if additional funding is not provided to the hospital for the service, the hospital would not be providing the service after Oct. 8.
The hospital had requested a $100,000 per year contribution from the city for ambulance operations, but through discussions the groups had come to a figure of $75,000 per year, with the hospital absorbing the remainder of the cost.
Mayor Ken Chamberlain spoke first at the meeting and said that during his 10 years of involvement with Wayne city government, he had been under the understanding that the city's $10,000 per year contribution to the hospital was to help with the purchase of a new ambulance.
"I found out recently that the money we have provided is going toward operations of the ambulance. If we assume that 85 percent of the calls for the ambulance are within the city, the city's obligation is $63,750. This would be a big hit to our General Fund. However, I understand that we have an obligation to do this," Chamberlain said.
The mayor then made a proposal, which he stressed was his proposal and had not yet been discussed by the City Council, that the city pay 80 percent of this cost ($51,000) the first year and increase that number by 12 percent in each of the next two years.
"This would get us to the level we should be funding the ambulance and then we need to discuss what our annual increases should be," he said.
Jim Frank, CEO of the hospital, told those in attendance that the hospital's loses on the ambulance service are "close to $100,000 per year and with the $75,000 figure, we are still losing money. Also, do we want to go through this (negotiations) again in two years? I think this is a pretty fair compromise. It is tough to come up with a definite number for the amount we are losing."
Bryan Ruwe, representing the Rural Fire Board, said he was under the understanding that the hospital had originally asked for $75,000 from the city and $25,000 from the Rural Board.
"Our board has already made the decision to not fund the ambulance service. State statute does not require us to do so and it is not really our problem," Ruwe said. "We are a fire district and have nothing to do with the ambulance."
City Administrator Lowell Johnson said that the cost for the fire district would result in approximately 20 cents per acre in taxes. He said that other fire districts in the area pay costs associated with providing for the service.
It was noted that the board could approach the County Commissioners and ask for funding as part of the fire district's annual request.
At a meeting earlier this year, County Commissioner Randy Larsen told the council that the commissioners would be willing to consider additional funding for the district, but could not act on the hospital's request directly.
Considerable discussion was held during the hour and a half meeting on topics such as reimbursement for ambulance calls, the need for three ambulances and the number of calls that are for the transfer of patients.
After several options were discussed, including the payment of the money requested by PMC, the hiring of an ambulance service for the city or having ambulance service provided by the volunteer fire and rescue department, Council member Matt Eischied said "we can 'what if' this to death. I just don't want this money to go to pay for a new ambulance."
Frank said that the ambulance is a public service and the hospital can bill patients for the service, but the actual costs are never fully covered.
"At the end of the year, we have to pay the difference. We either need more calls or less calls. We have lots of overhead and shared costs. If the city wants, they can hire someone to provide ambulance service and the hospital can wash our hands of it."
Mayor Chamberlain addressed the three members of the Rural Board that were in attendance and said that if the hospital were to no longer provide ambulance service, the city and rural fire district would have to buy at least two ambulances and the fire department would be responsible for running them.
PMC Board member Galen Wiser said the issue of the city paying for ambulance service goes back to 1982.
"I can't speak for the entire board, but I do believe the mayor's proposal would be better than what we are getting now. I do hope the rural board gets on board with the request."
Following the discussion, Ruwe told those in attendance that his board would bring the request to the County Commissioners before the next year's budget is set.
Mayor Chamberlain said that the council has to answer to the taxpayers and "hope we can find a middle ground. This is a tough time to be paying out of property taxes, but I understand the need."
Frank ended his comments for the evening by saying, "we knew this was going to be a difficult discussion. We want to continue to provide the ambulance service - we just want to lose less money."