MAHAFFEY — Like many volunteer ambulance services throughout the state, Mahaffey Community Ambulance Service is struggling to put enough volunteer responders into their rigs to help those in need.

Last year, the service responded to less than half of the calls it was dispatched for, because in most of those cases, the reason was simply because there are not enough volunteer medical personnel available at certain times of the day.

A public meeting held by Ferguson Township Supervisors was held Wednesday evening at Mahaffey Firehall in an attempt to find a solution to ease that strain and continue to provide initial emergency care for residents. Supervisor Donald Sheeder told the crowd of approximately 100 people in attendance he was charged by his fellow supervisors with scheduling a meeting to resolve the issue.

“We are not trying to run Mahaffey Community Ambulance Service out of business or put (Rescue Hose & Ladder Co.’s) Ambulance Service in. My board requested this meeting with the other municipalities (served by Mahaffey Ambulance) to see where this stands,” Sheeder said.

Representatives of Ferguson, Greenwood, and Bell townships, and Mahaffey and Newburg boroughs attended the meeting, although Sheeder said he sent an email to each of the municipalities in the ambulance’s coverage area.

Deputy Director of Kersey-based EMMCO East Brian Shaw said the problem of a lack of manpower is widespread among volunteer services across the commonwealth. One of the company’s services is to provide EMT training.

“Across the state, volunteer ambulance services are in crisis. And it’s not just emergency medical services, it’s fire departments also. Many services have the same issue in getting personnel out the door,” he said.

Curwensville

presents optionsCurwensville ambulance service’s EMS Director Robert Shearer said service representatives attended three municipal government meetings in Greenwood, Ferguson and Bell townships to offer a proposal that may help. He explained what happens when an ambulance is called to provide assistance in a medical emergency. He said when an ambulance is paged by the county’s department of emergency services to respond to a call, it has up to four minutes for crew personnel to reply to the call and 10 minutes for the crew to begin travel to the scene.

He said Curwensville is often the second service contacted when Mahaffey ambulance service doesn’t have a crew to cover the call. Continuing to respond to calls outside of the Curwensville Ambulance’s response plan coverage area is placing strain on Curwensville’s service because it is taking equipment and employees away from its intended coverage area.

Two options were presented that the service believes would get emergency service personnel to a Mahaffey area call faster. The first proposal is to dispatch Curwensville whenever Mahaffey’s ambulance service is called. If Mahaffey gets a crew to respond, then Curwensville would be canceled enroute if it is not needed.

The second would be to station an ambulance and a paid emergency medical technician in Mahaffey Borough during peak call hours. He said this would allow the EMT on duty to immediately take the ambulance to the scene to start care. Mahaffey Ambulance Service volunteers could assist with the call or if none were available, a second employee would be called from Curwensville Ambulance to help with the transport of the patient to the hospital.

Shearer said Curwensville cannot justify placing a second paid employee in Mahaffey, noting the cost for two employee’s salaries and benefits and the ambulance, equipment and insurance would total approximately $288,000 per year. He stressed at several times that if Curwensville would come in to assist with coverage, Mahaffey’s volunteers would be welcomed.

Long-term solution sought

Tempers flared at times during discussion of the second option by members of the audience, especially whether that option could be sustained long term by Curwensville Ambulance.

A paramedic from Jefferson County EMS inquired of Shearer and Curwensville Ambulance employee Mike Bell, “Have you talked to Mahaffey about developing a response? Have you reached out?” He added that he didn’t believe a paid service in Mahaffey could be viable long term.

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Shearer said no one from Mahaffey replied to his messages.

Dan Wright, former Mahaffey fire chief and ambulance volunteer, told Shearer he also agreed a paid service is not feasible long-term in the rural areas of Clearfield County, and said if Curwensville Ambulance stationed an ambulance and a paid employee, it would not be long until the cost of memberships rise each year.

“You are not coming here to lose money. You are not buying new rigs and equipment that way. You are not losing money or you wouldn’t be in business,” Wright said.

A majority of those speaking agreed residents shouldn’t have to wait for care.

“The thing that worries me is getting an ambulance to where it is needed. We need people to get off their (behinds) and volunteer to help their neighbor. It’s up to the people of the community if they want the ambulance to continue. I mean no offense to Curwensville or Punxsy, but I will never vote to have you come in,” Bell Township Supervisor Dave Kauffman said.

Volunteers neededBell said he believes the time for volunteer services is coming to an end.

“Between the training hours, the continuing education credits and the cost of living, people just don’t have time to be volunteers. Maybe 30 years ago when it didn’t take two incomes to support a family. People don’t have time and this takes a lot of time.”

Mahaffey Community Ambulance Service began in 1972.

Board Treasurer Roy “Butch” Markle told the audience he has serious concerns the Mahaffey Community Ambulance Services’ coverage area could end up with no service noting a similar instance in Coalport a number of years ago when then Philipsburg Ambulance Service, now Moshannon Valley EMS, was approved to station an ambulance in the borough and assume coverage there. He said after a time, the service found it was no longer financially feasible to provide the service and closed the station there.

Markle stated he believed the outcome of last night’s meeting would have been different if Curwensville Ambulance had contacted Mahaffey Ambulance about its proposal before being presented to some of the municipalities in Mahaffey Ambulance’s coverage area.

“Had the board been contacted, I’m sure we would have been willing to sit down and talk, but we weren’t notified and you have put the board on the spot. Any decision would have to be decided by the board. The board would have to discuss what to do to go the direction that best continues to provide service and what we need to do to continue to be here,” Markle said.

Discussions encouragedCommissioner Dave Glass said he has no connection to either service, but believed a successful future lies in both services and the supporting municipalities sitting down together to work out a solution.

“I am not here to tell you what to do. I’m here to help. I don’t care about the past, I’m looking to the future. What worries me is the person who needs a response and how we can work together and move forward. We need to sit down together and figure something out. We need to think logically about the problem and what you want to do to fix it.”

Several of the municipality representatives indicated they are interested in future meetings to help solve the dilemma.

Sheeder said following the nearly two-hour meeting, he hopes to schedule a second meeting.

“We have to work on a solution to the problem that’s here. Everyone here is aware of the problem. I didn’t want a backroom meeting. We need to get this out and work together,” Sheeder said.