As I start my second term as commissioner I find that the more we try to do, the more help we need. We have always been lucky to have a phenomenal staff, as I have written about before. We have countless volunteers who give of their time to make the community a better place. And we have two representatives in our state legislature, Sen. Matt Smith and Rep. Dan Miller, who fight in Harrisburg for Mt. Lebanon and its residents. It is the issues on which these two represent us that have really challenged me lately. It seems that every month we deal with an issue that runs into state laws and regulations. Things such as the repair of state roads (Castle Shannon Boulevard) or the sale of municipal land limited by state regulations (the McNeilly Road property), to less-expected conflicts with issues such as deer management and pension calculations. But the issue that has me calling Sen. Smith and Rep. Miller right now is our paramedics.
As a member of the Medical Rescue Team South Authority (MRTSA) board, I have a learned a great deal about what it takes to provide top-notch emergency medical services to our residents. I had always been told by Fire Chief Nick Sohyda and Police Chief Coleman McDonough that MRTSA did a great job, but now I know what they have to do to provide those high service levels. And unlike our other public safety services, MRTSA is not primarily supported by taxes. They rely primarily on billing patients for their services as well as their membership drive.
One thing that has been an issue is that some insurance companies send payments for MRTSA’s services to the patient instead of MRTSA. They would not do that with UPMC Presbyterian, Magee or Allegheny General Hospital, but they do it for emergency medical services. Though some patients forward these checks to MRTSA, many more are either kept or lost. The result is that the bills go unpaid despite the presence of insurance coverage. Tens of thousands of dollars are lost. And that loss can only be compensated by reducing service levels or by using tax dollars to supplement MRTSA’s budget.
Before I even appreciated this problem, Sen. Smith had sponsored a bill to address the issue. Senate Bill 822 would require insurance companies to directly reimburse ambulance, emergency medical and river rescue service providers for approved claims. My former fellow Commissioner, Dan Miller, joins Sen. Smith in supporting the bill, given his experience as a volunteer firefighter in Mt. Lebanon. Representative Miller asked me to pass on this message: “As someone who has worked alongside the staff of MRTSA I understand just how vital their services are. I will lend them my support whenever I can, just as they are always there for our residents when they are in need.”
MRTSA is there for us when we need them most, but until we need them, they are often forgotten. Across the country, EMS services are facing extreme hardships. One company that operates in six states closed its doors without warning in December. Recently, another company in York, Pennsylvania was forced to close due to financial constraints. MRTSA remains healthy in large part due to the excellent management by Chief Todd Pritchard and Assistant Chief John Moses. But certainly the taxpayer support provided by the participating communities has been necessary for MRTSA to operate at such a high level. If Sen. Smith and Rep. Miller are successful, perhaps the strain on MRTSA and the other EMS providers across the state will be lessened. I know they have my support and I hope they have yours as well.
In talking to Sen. Smith and Rep. Miller, there was a message they each wanted me to share with the residents of Mt. Lebanon. Sen. Smith asked that residents feel free to contact him, “As always, I urge residents to contact my office with any questions, comments or complaints about any state related matter.” Similarly Rep. Miller said that one thing that has not changed since he left the commission chambers is that “I still look forward to hearing from residents to discuss the issues we all face every day.”
Learn more about MRTSA.