Lower Valley Ambulance Service pleads for help to avert ‘financial crisis’

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The Lower Valley Ambulance Service is pleading with local officials for financial aid so it can stay afloat — as fingers are being pointed about how much help they actually are receiving from an outside entity.

With what he said are a lack of payments from patients being serviced and little to no money from the municipalities it serves, Joe Luera, president of the service’s board of directors, called the situation a crisis.

This comes just months after the Tribune-Review reported the service had been making progress with the help of the Allegheny Valley North Council of Governments.

“The council of governments didn’t help us at all,” Luera said. “It’s a bad turn to the south. Lower Valley relies on third-party billing, and with the cut backs in Medicare … This is a big issue. A lot of insurance companies, when I pick you up and take you to the hospital, and you get a bill and they pay it, they send the customer the payment. We’re not getting a lot of them.

“A lot of people are keeping them and not paying.”

The third-party billing is state law, leaving the ambulance service with little options other than to reach out to the seven municipalities it covers. Also at play is inflation and the economic impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

The municipalities served are Cheswick, Harmar, Springdale, Springdale Township, a portion of Indiana Township, Oakmont, and Verona.

According to Luera, not a penny has been received from municipalities in five decades.

Only Springdale has offered any aid, he said, but they haven’t yet received what was supposed to be $10,000.

“We’re looking into the future, if we make it that far, to try to get it on the ballot and get a tax base we can get from the seven communities,” Luera said.

In total, the service has $116,000 in the bank — and operating costs are roughly $85,000 per month, so Luera said “it won’t be long” before it runs out of funds.

Factored into that cost is $33,000 in payroll every two weeks, which covers 20 employees, including part-time employees, who Luera said are underpaid and overworked as it is.

Although they could take legal action against those who haven’t paid, it wouldn’t be worth going through the legal process, and “that’s not what we’re about,” Luera said.

In a letter sent to the municipalities Thursday, Luera described the situation as a “financial crisis.” It says the municipalities have not offered any help in its 50 years of service and requests meetings with all of the member municipalities.

“It is now the time to bring the municipalities we serve to the table to help us find a long-term solution to this funding crisis and address our current emergency situation,” the letter states. “We need to preserve these emergency services in our communities!”

Of the seven member municipalities, only Oakmont responded to a request from the Trib for comment.

Scot Fodi, the borough manager, said more needs to be learned before any decisions are made. But it was his understanding that the Allegheny Valley North Council of Governments’ efforts to create a plan were still ongoing.

“While we are incrementally understanding the financial situation LVAS is currently experiencing, borough leadership is not well-informed enough of the dynamics or depths of the matter to offer an educated, well-reasoned opinion on the LVAS’s financial situation,” Fodi said.

Lower Valley’s financial situation rose to attention when the service contacted AVNCOG, the council of governments, last October. A meeting was held the next month to discuss the situation and how to improve it.

The Tribune-Review in April reported that through the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, a peer-to-peer study was launched to develop a picture of the nature of its operations and help it receive grants.

It supposedly would take up to six months to complete, but Luera said it hasn’t been completed and so far his organization has received no help.

Robert Frank, executive director of the Allegheny Valley North Council of Governments, said that study was launched before he took over the position and he was unable to provide details. 

They haven’t called and asked us for anything, Frank said. “It’s just ‘been crickets.’ It’s not really in the COG’s purview,” he said.

Meanwhile, meetings already have started with the member municipalities. Although Harmar did not respond to requests for the Trib for comment, Luera said he met with officials Thursday, although no decisions were made.

“It went well,” he said via text Friday. “Great interchange of conversation. Need a last-minute life save.”

Ultimately, he added, a tax likely will be what helps the most.

Logan Hullinger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Logan at 724-226-7744, lhullinger@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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Lower Valley Ambulance Service pleads for help to avert ‘financial crisis’

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