VOLUNTEER FIRE companies in Carroll County have reluctantly recognized the economic realities of providing critical ambulance services to the community. Next month, the association of 14 volunteer units is expected to approve a countywide plan to bill insurers for these emergency services. The county commissioners will create a paid liaison to improve government coordination with independent fire companies.
It is another step toward paid staffing of vital emergency services, one that an all-volunteer corps can no longer provide.
There are not enough volunteers and not enough trained medical technicians to provide round-the-clock service for a growing suburban jurisdiction. And not enough locally raised money to cover costs: The county will increase its share of fire company budgets to 90 percent in July.
The fire companies insist on doing their own billing, with uniform county rates ranging up to $500 a call. They are concerned they will not get their share under a central collection system. But economies of scale will soon lead to that unified approach.
The county spends more than $550,000 a year for paid ambulance personnel at 12 stations. And four stations have been charging for ambulance runs since last year.
Billing for ambulance calls is not painless, even if the companies swear they will not dun patients unable to pay. Insurance premiums or co-pays may increase. And contention will arise over the amount of effort that each company makes to collect insurance compensation from those receiving service. Demand for advanced emergency medical services in Carroll is growing. If that requires more paid staffing, the county must provide it. But the county must also require volunteers to bill for ambulance runs.
A full-time liaison will help fire companies make their needs and views known to the county and willl promote closer working relations. That's important if Carroll is to make the most of its dollars for this vital emergency service.
Pub Date: 6/03/98