CUMBERLAND — The city of Cumberland and Allegany County are working to find specific ways to improve the local emergency medical services system and to cut costs in delivery of those life-saving services.

Cumberland Fire Chief Donnie Dunn and Allegany County’s Director of Emergency Services James Pyles met recently to explore cost-saving measures in providing emergency medical services to the citizens of Allegany County — the majority of whom live in the city of Cumberland.

“It was a very positive meeting that will enhance patient care in Allegany County,” Pyles said.

So what does the city of Cumberland want from the county and vice versa?

“The county is looking to us to cover areas outside of the city,” Dunn said. “We can do that but we don’t know what the city will get in return.” 

Pyles and Dunn met for nearly two hours — the first such working meeting since the city and county entered into an agreement last February for both sides to explore consolidation of services.

The Cumberland department operates with 48 firefighters. It is budgeted to hire three more people who are required to be an emergency medical technician, a cardiac rescue technician or a paramedic.

Dunn said the city currently receives $44,664 in annual appropriations from the county for EMS services in addition to a small tax differential.

“Keep in mind that city residents are county taxpayers but county residents are not city taxpayers,” Dunn said. “Therefore, consider that the county is supplying paid people in most communities in the county, while the city is paying for its own EMS service.

“Is that fair?” Dunn said. “I think it is obvious what the city can do for the county — cover areas around the city — freeing up county personnel to be placed in other locations. The question is what the county can do for the city.” 

The Cumberland Fire Department has averaged 15 ambulance calls daily over the last five years.

“We staff two ambulances with the third line being staffed by Engine 2, which puts the engine out of service,” Dunn said.

Dunn said it cost the city $2 million annually to operate its ambulance service. He said third-party billing in fiscal 2019 produced $1,065,000.

As of Aug. 19, the department responded to 3,450 ambulance calls in 2019, 113 of which were outside the city limits, and 835 fire incidents, including 15 outside city limits.

Volunteers declining

The county launched its EMS services division in 2007 in response to the declining numbers of volunteers who previously provided ambulance services throughout the county.

County staffing and utilization has “increased over the years because of the decline in the number of EMS volunteers, increased delayed and failed responses by EMS units in Allegany County,” Pyles said.

Nationwide, fewer people are volunteering to provide fire and EMS services.

The Allegany County EMS Division has 42 full- and 32 part-time staff under the supervision of interim Chief Christopher Biggs. The 74 employees consist of advanced life support providers, paramedics and basic life support providers and EMTs.

Much of the staff is cross-trained in firefighting, rescue operations and hazardous materials operations. Many staff members are also trained in special operations such as swift water rescue, high-angle rescue and tactical medicine, Pyles said.

The county’s EMS Division hub is located on West Main Street in Frostburg in the former Frostburg Area Ambulance building. The county acquired the failing ambulance service in 2017.

“We provide a 24/7 crew, an advanced life support provider and basic life support provider to several stations around the county, including Tri-Towns EMS, LaVale Rescue Squad, Bowman’s Addition and two crews at our DES-Frostburg location,” Pyles said.

He also said a single advanced life support provider is provided for 24-hour coverage at Cresaptown and Corriganville. A single basic life support provider is stationed during the day Monday through Friday at fire stations in Flintstone, District 16 and Mount Savage.

Revenue issues

Pyles said the county collected an average of $64.49 per call in 2018 in services provided by county EMS providers.

“Patient billing for county-staffed responses totaled $1,521,120.48 This is for all stations that DES provides any form of assistance to,” he said.

However, the county only received $324,837.87 of that total. “The remaining amounts go directly to the local responding unit,” said Pyles, who is looking to adjust the numbers to increase the county’s share of patient billing revenues.

“In some situations, Allegany County EMS Division is providing the advanced life support provider (medic or paramedic), the basic life support provider (EMT) and the ambulance (transport vehicle) to the station and is not being compensated,” Pyles said.

Pyles also said delayed and failed responses of 11 percent in 2016 has been reduced in the county to 5.3 percent with assistance of county EMS services.

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