The Coudersport Volunteer Ambulance Association may have to close its doors if it can’t generate some income soon.
“We may not be around in July. I’m not exaggerating,” Bob Cross, CVAA treasurer, told Potter County commissioners at their meeting June 17. “I looked up bankruptcy attorneys, because I’m at the point where I need to make that call.”
CVAA is a nonprofit ambulance service providing Advanced Life Support (ALS) to all of Potter County, and Basic Life Support (BLS) to Coudersport borough and the townships of Eulalia, Sweden, Summit and part of Allegany. Cross said of those, only Coudersport borough makes an annual contribution.
“This is critical,” he said. “Communities and the government of these places need to decide whether or not they have an ALS and BLS service in Coudersport.”
CVAA had about $17,000 available as of last Thursday, according to bank statements provided at the commissioners’ meeting. Cross said that could be depleted after paying bills and EMTs this week.
“We had no EMTs, so we had to hire them,” said Michele Mather, CVAA president. “Last November, we turned over 27 calls to other agencies, and it was 39 calls turned over in December.”
She said after she took the presidency in January, a “per diem” program was started that paid EMTs $20 per call, drivers $15 and attendants $15. That worked well at first, but eventually CVAA had to hire three EMTs who each work 20 hours per week.
“That money has to come from somewhere. We have no way of generating income, other than our insurance billing,” said Mather.
According to a 2019 Potter Leader-Enterprise article about CVAA’s financial hardships, shuttering the organization could be an even bigger financial burden on municipalities, which are required by law to provide some type of emergency ambulance services. If CVAA ceases services, a private for-profit organization could be the only option, costing three to four times more than a volunteer association.
Mather and Cross made a plea for help to the commissioners, who said when it comes to funding, their hands are tied. Counties are prohibited from giving directly to nonprofit organizations, such as community ambulance or volunteer fire companies. Commissioner Paul Heimel said the county has found ways around this in the past, such as contributing to individuals’ firefighting or EMT training.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation,” said Heimel, adding that previous plans like sending letters of support to municipalities on behalf of CVAA were “diverted” under previous CVAA leadership. He said he will revisit saved drafts of those letters.
“The fact you provide Advanced Life Support countywide, does kind of implicate that we have to have a little hand in this too,” said Commissioner Barry Hayman. “Even if it’s just writing a letter of support for ALS to those townships or calling those again who said they’d apply [for American Rescue Funds].”
All municipalities are eligible for American Rescue Funds, which have little restrictions as to how they can be spent and could help fund CVAA, said Hayman. Applications are due June 30 with money being dispersed in July.
Another potential funding source is Act 13 Impact Fees, dispersed to municipalities from Potter County’s allotment of $207,015, said Commissioner Paul Heimel. The Impact Fees can be used in several ways, including the delivery of social services, emergency preparedness and the reduction of taxes.
Commissioner Nancy Grupp said in order to secure such funding from the townships, more outreach is needed. She suggested CVAA board members should attempt to attend township supervisor meetings every quarter or every six months.
“You need to reach out to them, because they are not aware you are in this situation or that it’s so dire,” said Grupp, adding that she’s never seen anyone from CVAA at Eulalia Township supervisors’ meetings that she attends. “If you showed up at a meeting two years ago and tell them you need to have money, unless you’re there continually, they’ve got other stuff they’re dealing with all the time. Unless you’re keeping in the front of their minds, they’re going to forget about it.”
Mather told Grupp she believes the townships are well-aware of the situation CVAA is facing and that they “shouldn’t have to beg for money when it should be a natural thing.” Cross agreed, adding, “If people don’t know there’s a problem, it’s because they don’t want to know.”
“I have a small log cabin business I run because I don’t make enough as a paramedic to support myself,” said Cross. “And now you want me to go to meeting after meetings. To me, that is insulting. But I will do that if that’s what it takes.”