Pa. EMS agency trying to pick up the pieces after shutdown, police search
"Financially, we are getting by," said John Doucette, Gilbertsville Ambulance's interim chief of operations. "We're making payroll and paying our bills."
DOUGLASS, Pa. — Prior to questions being raised about Gilbertsville Ambulance's finances and its longtime chief being fired, the agency was in the midst of asking the township for $100,000 in funding.
This and other aspects of the crisis with which the ambulance company is now struggling were aired Monday during a meeting of the township's emergency services board.
John Doucette, the agency's interim chief of operations, appeared before the emergency services board accompanied by new ambulance board President Mark Landes and Vice President Jessica Gisinger Doran.
The emergency services board includes Township Supervisors Chairman Joshua Stouch and is now chaired by Andrew Duncan, the township's emergency services coordinator.
Duncan, the township's emergency services coordinator and chief of the Gilbertsville Fire & Rescue Company, had been vice chairman but assumed the chairmanship after Garry Schmoltze was removed after being fired as the chief of operations at the ambulance company.
The other members of the emergency services board are Doucette, Rick Smith, Terry Heydt, Dave Yusko, Dean Brumbach and Police Chief Barry Templin Jr.
Stouch was absent from Monday's meeting but the two other township supervisors — Alan Keiser and Sara Carpenter — were in attendance.
The ambulance company's representatives emphasized they did not have questions about the agency's finances when they first began to appear before the township board of supervisors in January to ask for the implementation of an EMS tax that would raise $100,000 a year to help support ambulance service in the township.
That tax has not yet been implemented and Township Manager Peter Hiryak made clear that while the township wants to help, it will not be making a donation until treasurer Cindy O'Donnell has a chance to look at the ambulance company's books.
Hiryak described the revelation that the ambulance company recently had developed questions about its own books "as kind of a slap in the face" to township officials who had been mulling providing a donation.
"We had been painted a pretty rosy picture through June," he said.
Doucette, who is the police chief in Zerbe Township, Northampton County, said it was a "slap in the face to me as well. Speaking for the organization, I'm sorry this happened and it shouldn't have happened. Things came to light and it was painful."
He and the other ambulance agency representatives declined to get into details of the possible financial issues at the agency so as not to compromise the police investigation.
He said there are some concerns about the ambulance agency's books and its officials are cooperating with police detectives who are investigating whether there was any wrongdoing.
"We have some reservations about the numbers that were worked up," said Gisinger Doran.
Doucette pledged full cooperation and transparency going forward.
As of now, finances at the agency, whose full name is Gilbertsville Area Community Ambulance Service, are being run as tight as they can be run, Doucette told the township officials.
"Financially, we are getting by," Doucette said. "We're making payroll and paying our bills."
Landes said the agency will be refinancing its building — for which they owe very little on he said — and along with the annual membership drive, should help cover costs and expenses through next spring.
Although the agency recognizes the township might be hesitant to make a donation under the current circumstances, Doucette said "we're not asking for a specific amount, but we are in need."
The agency is also looking for two more board members and has offered a seat to the supervisor boards in both New Hanover and Douglass (Mont.) townships. Neither has accepted the offer as of yet.
Doucette confirmed several employees, volunteers and board members resigned after Schmoltze was fired, and noted he and Schmoltze "had a falling out a few months ago" and, as a result, Doucette had stopped working shifts on the ambulance and was only helping out administratively.
But he told the township that two new staff members have been hired and should be on board "no later than November." However, he said, "we have six open shifts we're still trying to fill" before the agency can be able to provide service "24/7, 365 days a year, which we feel is an obtainable goal."
In the meantime, Doucette said he has been taking on some shifts himself and said although he considers himself an "interim" chief of operations, that "I am not going away until this is fixed."
He said he supported Duncan's decision to de-certify the agency for 48 hours when the situation broke open and police searched the ambulance building in the wake of a report of weapons being kept there. None were found.
Doucette said the agency voluntarily ceased operations during that same period in other townships as well.
"We shut down there as well until the smoke had cleared," he said.
Duncan said the emergency services board and the township want to be involved to help find a solution to the issues there and noted that the financial difficulties are part of a larger crisis of poor funding for emergency medial services on the state and federal level.
"We want to do what's necessary to salvage the situation," said Gisinger Doran. "It's not fair for the residents to be stuck with inadequate emergency medical services because of problems without our organization."
The next meeting of the Douglass Emergency Services Board is scheduled for Oct. 10.
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