BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ As it prepares to celebrate its 85th anniversary, the Basking Ridge Fire Co. and Emergency Medical Squad has informed Bernards Township that its days as an all-volunteer organization may be ending, and it is endorsing a plan to hire a professional EMS contractor "to provide response coverage to the township during identified peak times."
The matter is on Tuesday night's Bernards Township Committee agenda.
The March 8 correspondence, addressed to township and elected officials, states that as in "many other communities," the Basking Ridge volunteer organization, which offers primary coverage for the northern end of the township, has been experiencing greater demands on emergency medical (first aid squad) volunteers.
"Higher call volumes, increased training requirements, and a shrinking pool of new volunteers is making it steadily more difficult to serve the community in the manner in which we are accustomed,
the correspondence states.
[Updated] The time that the professionals most likely would respond would be on weekdays during the day, according to information released on Monday from the Bernards Township police chief, Michael Shimsky. Shimsky also said on Tuesday that the Liberty Corner Squad indicated it would also be adding a letter of support to the proposal.
Contractors would bill for services independent of township
Shimsky, responding on Monday to an email sent to members of the Basking Ridge Fire Company, said that the professional EMS contractors would be responsible for billing for their services independent of the township.
"Third party EMS providers generally derive operating costs reimbursements for services from patients for whom services are provided, including, but not limited to, insurance, Medicare and Medicaid coverage," he said. The chief said it is the township's intention to use this payment model.
Insistence on 'Soft billing'
Nevertheless, Shimsky added, "The Township insists on a 'soft billing' model and intends to require that no provider charge patients who are underinsured or otherwise have no ability to pay. It is NOT the intention of the township to require payment for individuals who are unable to pay."
These issues that resulted in strain on local emergency services resulted in the Basking Ridge Fire Co. and EMS having joined in with township officials to explore other alternatives "to provide the high degree of service we have come to know in the township," said the correspondence on the agenda.
Township officials have been for a number of years been pointing to the added strains on volunteer emergency services as the population and commercial development has grown, and have said that the numbers of volunteers have not been keeping apace with the numbers of residents moving into town.
Shimsky said that members of the Bernards Township Emergency Services community had formed a working group approximately three years ago to explore how the township could improve the township’s method of delivering Emergency Medical Services.
"The working group is a collaborative effort among township officials and its two all-volunteer EMS providers, Liberty Corner First Aid Squad and Basking Ridge Fire Company and First Aid Squad, and looked to explore all options available that will allow for the most efficient delivery of services to the residents and citizens who live, work and travel through and visit the township," Shimsky said in an email on Monday.
The correspondence to the township, signed by Basking Ridge Fire Co. president Patrick Dilorenzo, adds that the third-party professional EMS contractor, would provide "supplemental resources" during peak call times to ensure a timely response to those in need.
The volunteers "will continue to be on call as needed," and will be the primary source of coverage at off peak hours and when multiple calls cannot be handled by the third-party service, the letter states.
Covering cost not addressed in correspondence
The correspondence does not address how the cost of paid EMS service would be covered. TAP Into was unable to reach the Basking Ridge Fire Co. chief by email.
The letter summed up by thanking officials for their support, and saying that the volunteer organization looks forward to "transitioning to a new model" that will continue to place emphasis on "patient-centric" operations and building a sustainable future.