When officials at Cumberland-Goodwill EMS saw rising rates of coronavirus infections in China, they made the decision to purchase extra supplies.
Their timing will now cost them about $8,000.
Assistant Chief Nathan Harig said Chief Robert Pine, who handles the purchasing of supplies, made the call to purchase N95 masks in anticipation that the virus would spread and that there would be a supply chain problem.
“Then as we saw cases rise in Italy and throughout Europe, we figured it was a race against the clock to get what we could in,” Harig wrote in an email to The Sentinel.
The company outfitted its providers with goggles that seal to prevent spread of the disease and didn’t have a problem getting the usual disposable gowns.
Harig said their plans were in place by the end of February when they started to hold meetings and share their planning with municipalities.
The problem is that the company’s work to be proactive all took place prior to the March 6 disaster declaration signed by Gov. Tom Wolf.
“If we would have waited until the first case in Pa., we wouldn’t have anywhere close to the capacity we were able to build in that three-month buildup,” Harig wrote. “I understand that the disaster declaration is a ‘start’ date, but things had to be in place well before then in order to start anything.”
Cumberland-Goodwill Monday posted about its dilemma to its social media accounts, adding that fundraising that had been geared toward its “Carlisle’s Got Heart” initiative to put AEDs in the community would be redirected to cover the $8,000 bill for the supplies to protect their crews from the coronavirus.
Donations may be made at the Cumberland-Goodwill EMS website, cumberland-goodwill-ems.square.site.
Harig said that “out of an abundance of caution” crews are responding to calls in full protective gear.
The situation is particularly frustrating because Cumberland-Goodwill has been warning legislators that EMS is “woefully underfunded,” Harig said.
Money designated for preparedness is dwindling and supplies have yet to be issued to first responders, Harig said.
There’s an added chance of financial problems because insurance companies send checks to cover ambulance service directly to the patient. With patients potentially being out of work due to the coronavirus, it’s possible some will pocket the checks rather than reimburse the EMS service as intended, Harig said.
“We want a world-class EMS system, no one wants to pay for it though, and when pandemics happen, we’re all scrambling,” Harig said.
Harig said EMS companies are proving their worth right now, and it’s time for support from the General Assembly. Bills have been introduced that would help ambulance companies. For example, HB 1347 would require insurance companies to reimburse ambulance companies directly.
Another solution to chronic underfunding would be to take 20% of what the state pays into the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Development Fund and give it directly to EMS agencies. That would bring roughly another $35,000 to the agencies, Harig said.
“We’re the front lines when pandemics happen. We go into the unknown cases before they’re diagnosed. Funding EMS needs to be a priority, and if the Legislature is in session they need to pass bills now that help us,” Harig said.
Email Tammie at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TammieGitt.