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Ambulance Service Makes Switch
0703- OVHD 1
With the split between Escalon Community Ambulance and Oak Valley Hospital District on the cusp of an official end date on July 1, EMT Stephanie Merriam finishes the ceremonious removing of an OVHD decal on June 26.

Escalon Community Ambulance is now its own entity, no longer a partner of the Oak Valley Hospital District.

Mike Pitassi, Escalon Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Chief, said that OVHD CEO John McCormick notified the ECA board at the end of August 2012 that OVHD wanted to separate.

Pitassi reported that ECA officially became its own entity on July 1.

“It seems to me like a million tasks to get this done,” he said.

He reported that in October 2012, ECA began the process of filing all the correct paperwork and reapplying to get a new provider number from Medicare and MediCal. The reapplication process takes months, he said.

On-site visits took place, they had to switch vehicle registrations into ECA’s name, they had to get new insurance contracts, as liability had to be switched from the former partner to ECA, drug screens and background checks had to be performed on the ECA employees. They had to establish all new contracts, including pharmacy, medical supply, laundry, medical billing, and more.

Pitassi said that all ECA employees still remain, but they had been handled through OVHD’s Human Resources department, so ECA also had to get its own HR contract. He added that it’s more expensive buying insurance as a small corporation instead of being under the large OVHD umbrella. They also had to get a rate change with the county for their stand-alone status.

ECA doesn’t receive a tax subsidy from the community for support as many other emergency services do. Therefore, it has relied on a membership program.

Although, when OVHD told ECA in August that they wanted to end the partnership, they also said they’d no longer honor ECA’s membership program. So, it went away that year. It’s been gone for a year.

However, ECA plans to reinstate the membership program now that the separation has taken place. Currently, the membership program is being examined by a Southern California attorney. Pitassi said that as soon as the proper documents are ready, ECA will offer the program to the public, which they hope will be by the end of July.

Pitassi helped explain the benefits of membership. When a person calls 911, he said, the ambulance that provides services will send a bill to the person’s insurance company. Insurance will cover a certain amount and there is typically a co-pay, or it may not cover ambulance use. The co-pay is written off on a membership plan. A membership program is a lower cost way for a community to insure itself, he said.

There is one caveat. Legally, the key is that the aggregate amount collected under the member program must exceed the amount that’s written down as ECA’s costs. In other words, the amount collected has to be more than what is utilized by the community.

Pitassi noted that if someone is on a fixed income, for example, a $200 ambulance fee can be impacting. Especially if they need the ambulance several times a year.

“If everybody’s involved in it, it works… It’s voluntary,” he said.

It’s very important that the community support the membership program if the community ambulance service is to survive. Cost for membership is $55 per year for a family or $45 per year for an individual.

“A lot of our future success, I believe, is going to depend on the depth of the partnership our community has with us,” Pitassi said. “…If they want to keep the ambulance service, it’ll be up to them.”

He added that the ECA is made up of “dedicated folks” and has been around a long time, 51 years. He said they know they’re facing a big challenge with uncertainties associated with the Affordable Health Care Act and changes in EMS systems that force expensive changes on small town ambulance services.

However, he emphasized that the community is key and they’ll do well with the community’s support. He said the community and the city has been helpful in getting ECA where it is today, adding that ECA also had some people working on its behalf from people in the city and various legislators who made efforts to help speed up the process to become a stand-alone entity.

ECA is a non-profit corporation and serves the community of Escalon, Farmington and the south east corner of San Joaquin County. Along with memberships, they also accept donations and sponsorships. For more information, call ECA at 838-1351.