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Borough Emergency Services Director discusses EMS plans

by Phillip Manning ~ May 8th, 2014

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One of the items up for consideration as the Mat-Su Borough Assembly discusses the upcoming borough budget is EMS services in the Valley.  The Department of Emergency Services has a new plan on the table that, if proven successful in the core area, could make its way to the Upper Valley next year.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:

In the last year, borough EMS service has encountered two major unanticipated financial hurdles.  The first came in the form of contribution to the Public Employee Retirement System, or PERS.  The State of Alaska ruled in 2013 that the borough is required to make contributions to PERS for emergency personnel who work more than thirty hours per week.  In addition, those same employees will, starting next year, be subject to health coverage mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act.  As a result, hours for responders were cut throughout the borough so that they would not trigger those requirements.  A long-term solution was held off pending the current budget discussions.

The conclusion of the internal decision-making process is to shift somewhat from part-time and on-call emergency responders to full-time staff, as Emergency Services Director Dennis Brodigan explains.

“We want to do it over a period of time.  Our first proposal was to hire fourteen paramedics, seven of which would be in the core area and seven in the rural areas–kind of spread out throughout the rural–just to provide that level of clinical performance out in the rural area.”

That would have proven too costly this year, however.  Now, the plan is to cut the number for this year to seven full-time paramedics in the more heavily populated areas of the Mat-Su Borough where, according to a budget document, more than eighty percent of EMS calls originate.  Dennis Brodigan says that this year’s plan should not result in an increase in borough property taxes.

“We are paying for the seven paramedics by a combination of two things:  we are increasing the fees we charge for ambulance services to pay for about half of them, and then the other half by the fact that we reduce the number of on-call responders.”

Things get more complicated when applying the same strategy to the rural areas of the borough, however.  With lower call volume, the current fee increases, which are relatively in line with ambulance costs throughout the state, will not be sufficient to cover the full-time salaries.  Add to that the fact that the rural area is very large, so more on-call responders would likely stay on board, and it creates a tricky fiscal situation.  Dennis Brodigan says there may be no way around the issue but to increase the overall budget.

“Next year, it’s going to–unless we find another creative way to do this or take the ambulance fees up much, much higher, we’re not going to be able to come up with expense-neutral funding for these positions.”

A bigger budget for rural services leads to one of two options:  cuts elsewhere or higher property taxes.  Dennis Brodigan says he believes the trade-off of increased cost will ultimately lead to better emergency care throughout the borough.  The Mat-Su Borough Assembly is currently scheduled to continue deliberating the budget through next Wednesday.

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