West OC Ambulance Review Leads To Funding Questions; City Believes County’s EMS Funding Formula Inadequate

West OC Ambulance Review Leads To Funding Questions; City Believes County’s EMS Funding Formula Inadequate

OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and City Council questioned Worcester County’s reimbursement to the city this week for EMS services provided in the unincorporated area of West Ocean City.

During Tuesday afternoon’s Mayor and City Council work session, City Manager David Recor explained one of the items listed as high priority on the 2014 Strategic Plan Policy Agenda is a review of West Ocean City (WOC) EMS service.

According to the report, the Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) medic unit typically responding to West Ocean City is staffed with three providers, at least two of which being advanced life support technicians and the third a basic level technician. This exceeds the minimum of all other Worcester EMS units by at least one paramedic.

In 2013, the average time for a unit to arrive in West Ocean City from time of dispatch was six minutes and 24 seconds.

“That is within two minutes of the same time we respond within the corporate limits of Ocean City,” Fire Chief Chris Larmore said. “That is a remarkable response time.”

In 2013, the total EMS call volume for the West Ocean City area was 675 calls. This represents 15.4 percent of the total EMS calls for service by the department.

The FY2013 budget for the Career Division was about $7.5 million. The Worcester County contribution for the EMS service for the same period was $1.181 million, representing 15.9 percent of the total budget.

“The irony of that is 15 percent of our call volume is in WOC, and the county actually reimburses us 15 percent of our budget,” Larmore said.

The estimated annual cost to place one additional medic unit in the West Ocean City area is estimated to be about an additional $1.5 million after initial startup costs.

The estimated revenue lost to the Town of Ocean City by no longer responding to the West Ocean City as an initial response unit is estimated to be close to $395,000.

“The reason being is our overall service in town was the primary expenses. We could not decrease costs by simply not going to West Ocean City,” Larmore said. “Off season our minimal staffing is three units. Those three units also handle the calls in West Ocean City. If we no longer went to West Ocean City, we still could not reduce below those three crews.”

The report provided history of EMS services in West Ocean City. Initially, service was provided by the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC), subsequently by Ocean City Emergency Services and today by the OCFD.

Provisions made during times of anticipated delayed response such as Fourth of July, White Marlin Open as well as any extended closure of the Route 50 Bridge, OCFD staffed units have been temporarily placed at the fire house located on Keyser Point Road that is owned and operated by the OCVFC.

A significant change was made in 2010/2011 when staffing was increased to three providers on the ambulance to mirror the corporate limits change. At the same time, the decision was made to decrease the response from the career personnel on “silent fire alarms” in West Ocean City.

“Between myself, Chief [Chuck] Barton, Volunteer Deputy Chief [David] Cropper, which is almost 85 combined years with the OCFD, we don’t know of a single documented EMS call in West Ocean City this department failed to serve in a timely manner,” Larmore said. “That in itself we believe speaks volumes.”

Following the report, council members voiced their opinion that while West Ocean City service represents about 15 percent of call volume, the actual cost to the town is higher than the 15 percent the county reimburses.

“The county gives us $1.181 million, which is about 15.9 percent of our budget and it might seem ironic but I think it is planned on their part,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic, who will become Ocean City’s representative on the Board of County Commissioners next year because he is running unopposed for the seat currently occupied by the retiring Louise Gulyas. “Every municipality in the county gets money to support their calls inside the municipality, so if we take that money and split it amongst our calls opposed to another municipality’s calls, we are getting short changed by the county.”

Larmore responded the formulas used are complex. For example the county’s reimbursement is based on where the call originates as well as differs if transport is involved.

“In-season we generally staff seven units. Well, coincidentally one unit is 15 percent of costs, so if we lose 15 percent of our costs you could reduce the number of units from seven to six. One of those units is generally in Station 2, which is maybe a mile from headquarters,” Councilman Dennis Dare said. “So, I have to question without 15 percent of the calls going outside of the city that we couldn’t reduce the number of units in-season to have cost reduction.”

Dare added the taxpayers of Ocean City subsidize EMS by $5.5 million versus West Ocean City residents paying nothing for service, according to the county’s reimbursement formula.

“Ocean City providing that service makes sense. We have the mechanics, the training, the supervisors, and all of those things would have to be duplicated again for that 15 percent that is already there for 85 percent but it doesn’t make sense for us to be reimbursed with our own money,” Dare said. “There has to be some new money in this equation as far as I am concerned to make it fair to the taxpayers of Ocean City.”

Mayor Rick Meehan concluded there is no question Ocean City provides an excellent service for both the incorporated area of Ocean City and West Ocean City.

“It is still obvious to me out of the total funding that we receive from the county a portion of that funding that is allocated for our service to West Ocean City does not cover the total cost of the town providing that service,” the mayor said.