When it comes to government affairs, it’s no secret that the attitude of this newspaper has generally been: less is more.
We particularly consistently oppose cases where the government sets out to compete with private industry. Unless it provides essential services, the government should not be involved.
But an alarming decline in private ambulance companies, fewer paramedics and growing challenges in contracting ambulance services in a growing number of local communities should cause all government officials to sit up and take note.
The government must get involved either in providing the services or in subsidizing the private entities. If ambulance response is not an essential service, we don’t know what is.
Last week, the ambulance service issue, which had been simmering for some time, boiled to the fore when Hubbard Mayor Ben Kyle told Trumbull County officials that Lane LifeTrans had announced that Hubbard, the Township of Hubbard, Coitsville, Struthers and Campbell will no longer have ambulance service starting June 4.
Not too long ago, Kyle noted that Lifefleet had discontinued services, leaving many of these communities without EMS. Lane has stepped in temporarily, but is unable to maintain service in the wide geographic area.
When Lane ends his service, residents will be immediately impacted by the lack of medical response services or transport teams.
Kyle asked Trumbull County Commissioners to work with Mahoning County Commissioners to address the growing problem of a lack of emergency medical services available in parts of both counties.
Communities in Mahoning County, including Youngstown, have faced similar issues exacerbated when private ambulance companies say they find themselves with the bag on medical transportation costs after insurers like Medicaid, Medicare or even private insurance companies do not cover all expenses.
In an effort to spark conversation, Kyle even questioned the possibility of raising local sales taxes. This option could provide funds to help subsidize private emergency responders or help start joint government-run services.
But starting a government-run system is extremely expensive, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
In Mahoning County, for now, Emergency Management Agency Director Andy Frost has been tasked with arranging a meeting with communities in Mahoning who are concerned about ambulance services.
Good. It’s a beginning.
Government subsidies to private paramedics could help. So does a review of this very serious problem at the state and national levels, including the amount of funds allocated by government-run insurers like Medicaid and Medicare.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the answers, but we know it’s time to find them. Out-of-the-box solutions will be needed and “the way things have always been done” will no longer be a starting point.
Someone like Frost at the local government level needs to take ownership of this problem and take charge of the search for answers that might work in neighboring communities or states. Frankly, that’s where we would start.
If it is decided that starting a government-run ambulance service is the right answer, the next challenges will be hiring, funding, equipping and managing the system – tasks that many entities private have struggled to accomplish.
Public employers need to be honest with themselves and make tough decisions as they seek to be as responsible and efficient as possible with taxpayers’ money. It’s possible, but requires some creative thinking.
And to add to this growing concern, the challenges may not stop with ambulance and EMT services. Some communities report difficulty finding police and firefighters. They find shrinking hiring pools, creating desperate enough situations in some Ohio communities that government officials are considering raising age limits for transfer to police departments or reducing requirements like as fitness requirements.
One thing is certain. There is no time to kick the streets on these increasingly critical emergency service issues. We will soon reach the end of this road.
Her children rise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
Proverbs 31:28 KJV