OCEAN CITY — Frustrated with the ongoing strain and expense of providing emergency services to West Ocean City, resort officials last week made good on a promise to calculate the cost and send Worcester County a bill.
During a larger debate last month about the Ocean City Fire Department adding an additional two-person ambulance crew to handle the growing number of calls for service, the discussion inevitably came around to the increased demand for medical response in the ever-growing West Ocean City area. The spirited discussion arose during a larger and rather alarming debate about the increased number of calls for which no ambulance crews were immediately available.
That larger discussion led to the implementation of an additional two-person shift to meet the growing demand for services. That debate last month ended with resort officials vowing to essentially send Worcester County a bill to cover the growing expense of providing service in the unincorporated West Ocean City service area. Last week, that promise was fulfilled in the form of a letter from Mayor Rick Meehan to the Worcester County Commissioners.
“The town of Ocean City’s commitment to provide fire and EMS service to the West Ocean City service area was established when these services were provided by the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company,” the letter reads. “Today, all EMS service is no longer provided by volunteers, but by paid members of the Ocean City Fire Company. This change has resulted in a number of issues that need to be addressed.”
Meehan’s letter to County Commission Diana Purnell points to the increased number of occasions when crews were not immediately available as the catalyst for the request.
“Out of crew status, or the number of times there are no available crews to respond to the next incoming call, is a serious matter for any responding ambulance company,” the letter reads. “Continued development in West Ocean City and the subsequent increase in the number of medical responses required of Ocean City’s ambulance crews to West Ocean City has led to an unacceptable increase in the town’s out-of-crew status.”
The letter illustrates the apparent need of more financial assistance from the county to meet the growing demand for service and the increased cost of providing that service in the unincorporated area. For example, Ocean City paramedics responded to 828 calls for service in West Ocean City in calendar year 2018 with the cost to provide that service at over $1 million.
The town of Ocean City did collect over $200,000 from West Ocean City patients to which the town’s EMS crews provided service. Grant revenue from Worcester County also totaled around $454,000. The letter estimates the difference at about $654,000.
“Total revenue collected for service to West Ocean City, including the grants for the West Ocean City service area, totaled $654,000, leaving a deficit of $395,000 for the taxpayers of Ocean City to cover,” the letter reads. “We would respectfully request to be reimbursed for this amount.”
The letter goes on to enumerate several options for addressing the issue. One possible solution would be the establishment of medical response districts throughout the county and the development of a fee structure to support the costs of response to each area, separate from the county property tax bill.
In another proposed solution, Worcester County would reimburse Ocean City for the staffing and operational cost at the West Ocean City station, or Station 5, on a year-round basis. Stationing three employees per day for 24 hours a day, 365 days per year would cost an estimated $1.2 million in salary and benefits. In addition, the cost of supplying an additional medic unit at Station 5 is estimated at $400,000.
Yet another solution proposed in the letter is a direct payment from the county to Ocean City to offset the cost of providing service in West Ocean City above what the county provides in annual grants. In the current year, for example, that direct payment would total around $395,000. Finally, another solution would be to increase the formula for credit runs in unincorporated West Ocean City.
“I think we would all agree that providing EMS service to West Ocean City is essential to the health, safety and welfare of Worcester County residents and visitors,” the letter reads. “This issue is not just going to go away and it is imperative that the town and county officials meet and work together to resolve this issue no later than January 31, 2020. If the town is going to continue to provide medical response to the West Ocean City service area, there must be a funding source to cover the total cost of this service.”