Why a Centre County EMS company is facing a ‘critical situation,’ and how you can help

With emergency medical service companies across the country facing personnel and financial challenges, Port Matilda Emergency Medical Services announced Thursday that it has reached a “critical situation.”

In a post on Facebook, Port Matilda EMS wrote that it has “enough funds available to cover one more payroll cycle and that is it.” Members are asking community members to participate in its annual membership drive that is scheduled to begin this week.

“We need your support now more than ever,” the post states. “Your purchase of a membership helps protect not only your family in case of a medical emergency, but also helps your community sustain this vital resource.”

Jack Bosnell, a Port Matilda emergency medical technician, said the state funding for EMS personnel is either “limited or nonexistent.” Bosnell, who has worked as a first responder for eight years, said lack of funding and increasing costs for entrance exams, training and equipment has led to a decline in volunteers.

“To put a box of Band-Aids on am ambulance, the state wants you to purchase through a licensed medical supplier,” Bosnell said. “Now, the cost, instead of $1, rises to maybe $4, when they’re the same quality of products. It really is that kind of disparity.”

To begin the EMT certification process, Bosnell said, volunteers are expected to pay $1,000 for the initial training course. Once certified, first responders are mandated by the state to take additional courses every three years.

“Right out of the gate, the cost is $1,000, and I think that dampens some of the spirit,” he said.

Although most Centre County classes are free of charge, Bosnell said volunteers are expected to donate more time in addition to regular work schedules.

With a shortage of EMS providers and volunteer firefighters becoming an increasingly urgent problem in Pennsylvania, the state House of Representatives recently passed a package of bills aimed at addressing the well-being of responders and providing incentives to recruit and retain volunteers.

For many volunteer fire departments and EMS companies, fundraisers also serve as a key source of income. Port Matilda EMS’ most recent fundraiser, an Election Day sandwich sale, will take place Tuesday. Bosnell said the fundraiser, while helpful, still does not raise enough funds to cover one third of a payroll cycle.

“We need your help to assure we will continue to operate in case you need us,” Port Matilda EMS wrote in the Facebook post.

Bosnell said people can help by participating in their annual membership drive. On average, Port Matilda EMS sends 5,000 mailings and receives 500-800 back.

“If we could double our memberships, that would really help,” he said. “The thing I’ve always tried to impress upon people is that if you’ve actually had to give a family member CPR, two minutes will seem like the end of the world ... if you’re got to send a service from 20 minutes away to get help to your loved one, two minutes will feel like 20.”

With at least two people on duty for 12-hour shifts, Bosnell said Port Matilda EMS responds to about 450-470 calls per year. If the service were to close, he said community members would have to wait for services farther away if an emergency occurred.

“It’s one of those things that people don’t realize how important we are until we’re not there to answer the call,” Bosnell said.