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Leaders of the Newtown Township Ambulance Squad say they need more public funding to be able to continue answering life-saving emergency calls.
The ambulance squad that serves Newtown Borough and Newtown Township in Bucks County — a community of about 22,000 residents — is facing the same financial issues as other emergency medical services across the Philadelphia suburbs and the commonwealth. The cost of medical equipment has increased, staff are leaving for better-paying jobs, and the squad has a funding model that relies mostly on insurance collections and patient co-pays, rather than local taxes.
“I’ve been in emergency medical services for 27 years and never in a million years did I think that we would be in the staffing and funding crisis that we’re in now,” said Evan Resnikoff, chief of operations for Newtown Ambulance and president of the Bucks County EMS Chiefs’ Association.
Resnikoff is hoping some more dedicated funding from the township will help. On this November’s general election ballot, and at Resnikoff’s request, Newtown Township is asking voters if they want to approve a roughly 6% tax increase to help fund the ambulance squad.
Newtown Township residents currently pay 8.49 mills in property taxes, which equates to a tax bill of $370.16 for the owner of a home assessed at $43,600. Newtown Ambulance Squad already gets 0.5 mills of that tax rate.
The proposed increase of 0.5 mills would cost the owner of a home assessed at the township average an extra $21.80 per year.
Newtown Ambulance Squad already gets 0.25 mills in dedicated tax from neighboring Newtown Borough. Resnikoff said the squad requested an additional 0.25 mills last year, but the borough council rejected the request. Resnikoff plans to ask again next year.
Resnikoff said the dedicated funding is necessary to the squad’s survival.
“Based on our projections, I don’t think we would be able to keep up without the additional funding,” Resnikoff said. “In three to five years, we won’t be here.”
John Mack, who has served as a township supervisor since 2017, has taken a clear stance on the tax increase for emergency medical services, outlined in a comic he made about the issue on his website. “An additional $1.81 per month is a small price for the average Newtown Township homeowner to pay to ensure the continued excellent Emergency Medical Service provided by NAS,” Mack said.
The squad’s annual budget is $1.35 million, Resnikoff said. The dedicated tax would provide about 15% of the squad’s annual revenue.
The request is mostly to pay the people serving the community — the EMTs and paramedics.
The Newtown nonprofit organization is open 24/7 and answers about 200 911 calls a month in Newtown Township, Newtown Borough, and parts of Upper Makefield, and Lower Makefield.
Newtown Ambulance Squad has 37 employees — about a quarter of what it had five years ago.
In 2017, the squad had 121 employees. It was down to 86 employees by 2021.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, neighboring EMS organizations “got into a bidding war because there were so few people to hire … People were poaching each other’s staff for more money,” Resnikoff said. And Newtown couldn’t keep up with the competitive wages.
Newtown’s staff each work about 40 hours per week. Resnikoff said Newtown paramedics earn less than those in other EMS organizations in Bucks County: Newtown paramedics earn about $54,000 to $66,500 annually, while their counterparts in other Bucks EMS organizations earn an average of $66,500 to $87,000 annually. Newtown EMTs earn about $33,000 to $41,600 annually, while their counterparts in other Bucks EMS organizations earn about $45,700 to $54,000 annually.
“You can’t live anywhere in Bucks County on that kind of wage,” Resnikoff said. “All of our staff work a second full-time job.”
On top of it, Resnikoff said his staff is experiencing burnout, often working 24- to 48-hour shifts between two jobs. “And it’s one of the reasons why people leave EMS — because of the low pay, high stress,” Resnikoff said. The stress of the job contributes to much higher rates of suicide compared to the general public, according to a 2019 study.
“We hope with the public support, we’ll be able to provide our staff with more, so that they can work less when they’re not here and enjoy their lives outside of work,” Resnikoff said.
Because of the squad’s staffing shortage, it has already had to cut down on services. The squad had to end its transport service, which provided people with rides to doctor’s appointments and nursing homes, after 25 years. The squad also cut down its second ambulance from seven nights a week to two.
“A small portion of our revenue is from EMS property tax levies,” Resnikoff said. “So unfortunately, it’s not enough to sustain the EMS service anywhere in Pennsylvania.”