VAN BUREN– Despite concerns from some Van Buren residents about upcoming schedule changes to the Van Buren Ambulance Service, Town Manager Thomas Cannon assures that residents will have access to the same services to which they’ve grown accustomed.
The proposed changes are primarily billing differences due to a budget shortfall from a loss in state and federal revenues, which many other local departments are facing as well, he said.
The change involves a switch from offering full-time EMT coverage from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to offering “standby” service. No changes are proposed for the full-time service offered from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
In terms of what services to which residents will have access, Cannon said, “Actually, nothing’s changing.”
He said that the department was paying employees for full-time coverage even though they were allowed to go home and sleep, just as an employee on “standby” would be doing.
“Financially, we can’t continue to go down that road,” said Cannon. He said the ambulance service sees “very little impact between 10 and 6,” indicating the need for ambulance services tends to drop after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m.
The ambulance service will return to the same schedule that was offered prior to three years ago, when the company went to a 24-hour service. At that time, the ambulance service also stepped up the level of EMT services offered, going from a basic EMT service to paramedic level.
Cannon said the ambulance service is going to retain the paramedic services, even though it is returning to standby hours at night.
Cannon said the company lost money over the last two years, due primarily to a loss in federal and state reimbursement payments for Medicaid and Medicare. When administrators made the plan two years ago, they were depending on receiving that governmental support.
“The stability of the financial world has changed dramatically,” he said.
He also said in a 24-hour shift, one-third of the expenses the company is incurring are producing zero revenue, referring to payroll for employees who may be sleeping or otherwise idle during nighttime hours.
The numbers of employees for which the company provides jobs should remain unchanged, he said. Although in the current 24-hour, full-time services situation, the company wanted to hire more people to reduce the overtime expenses, he said they “were never able to get there.” Had the company been fully staffed as a 24-hour, full-time service, the upcoming change might have affected employment.
Cannon said the change will “give us some breathing room.”
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