PARKESBURG — Western Chester County first responders gathered to discuss the impending emergency crisis stemming from Tower Health’s recent decision to suspend advanced life support from the region with the closure of Medic 93, effective Sept. 1.
“This is a crisis,” said Chief Brian Gathercole of the Keystone Valley Fire Department.
Gathercole organized and led the informational meeting Wednesday evening at Parkesburg Point. The stated aim was to help explain to community members — strangers, neighbors and friends — and get all involved to create a better system of the region’s emergency management services with a sharp focus specifically on advanced life support — which is a crux component for emergency responders to do their jobs when helping people in need.
“When an alarm goes off we, go out and do our job,” Gathercole told the packed room of more than 40 people, mostly composed of first responders although some regional lawmakers were also present ranging from the mayor of Parkesburg to the council president of Modena and nearby municipal council members.
“This is a countywide problem,” Gathercole said.
Landenberg resident Bill Wohl of Medic 94 delivers remarks in Parkesburg on Wednesday. (JEN SAMUEL — MEDIANEWS GROUP)
Noteworthy, Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell was in attendance. He spoke at the closed of the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours.
In June, Tower Health announced that it would be closing Medic 93 services in certain Chester County areas, which were also until earlier this year also served by two recently closed hospitals.
Tower Health purchased Jennersville Regional Hospital and Brandywine Hospital approximately six years ago. The entity then closed the facilities a few months back, shutting down Jennersville Regional near the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve and closing Brandywine down on Jan. 31.
With these closures, medics have been traveling greater distances to bring patients to further away hospitals.
According to emergency officials at the Wednesday night meeting in Parkesburg, this matter will be compounded tremendously with Tower Health’s decision to end Medic 93’s services in Western Chester County.
Tower Health stated they will transition coverage of Advanced Life Support to other local responders within the municipalities affected alongside the Chester County Department of Emergency Services.
“First it was our two hospitals, now it is our advanced life support service,” Gathercole said on Wednesday.
Earlier this year, Chester County lost Jennersville Hospital and Brandywine Hospital, both closed by Tower Health.
“Tower Health is a not-for-profit health system,” Richard Wells, system director for corporate communications and government relations, said on April 3.
In June a deal closed in which Tower Health sold Jennersville Regional Hospital, plus 24 adjacent acres and two office buildings, to ChristianaCare for $8 million.
Yet Tower Health isn’t done making an impact in the county via departures.
In the next two months, western Chesco areas formerly served by Tower Health’s two still-closed hospitals will lose the services of West Reading-based Tower Health Advanced Life Support ambulances, known as Tower Direct.
On June 7, Dr. Charles Barbera, senior vice president of Tower Health and president of Reading Hospital, sent a letter to Chester County municipalities serviced by Tower Direct’s Medic 93 informing them that as of Sept. 1, Medic 93 will cease to operate in areas served by the former hospitals, as previously reported.
“This is a decision that we have not taken lightly, but it is necessary as a result of the closure of the Brandywine and Jennersville hospitals,” Barbera stated
“We must now take actions that will better support the communities served by Reading, Phoenixville and Pottstown Hospitals while also improving our operational performance,” Barbera said.
Now until Sept. 1, Tower Direct operates three units in Western Chester County: MICU 93, which operates still out of the old Brandywine Hospital, Medic 393 in Coatesville, and Medic 293 at Keystone Valley Fire Department in Parkesburg.
Besides Coatesville, Parkesburg and Caln, these units provide primary Advanced Life Support coverage to Modena, South Coatesville, West Brandywine, East Brandywine, Newlin and West Bradford.
On Sept. 1, Tower Direct, which bought Medic 93 EMS several years back along with the now-shut-down hospitals of Jennersville and Brandywine, will merge operations from Parkesburg, Caln and Coatesville to Medic 93’s current location in Elverson and to an all-new location in Honey Brook.
As a result, these areas will become serviced by Westwood Fire Company EMS units and possibly units from Minquas Fire Company in Downingtown, which may stretch already busy EMS units thinner than they already are, as previously reported.
Chief John Sly of the Westwood Fire Company expresses concern for the community with the imminent departure of local advanced life support as Tower Health plans to move Medic 93, which presently serves the region in Western Chester County, elsewhere. (JEN SAMUEL — MEDIANEWS GROUP)
Chester County is currently protected by 32 EMS agencies providing fast response to 911 medical emergencies, however, most offer basic life support — not advanced life support, as with Medic 94 whose coverage area spans 18 municipalities in Southern Chester County from Nottingham to Franklin.
Still, Medic 94 — with its advanced life service (ALS) abilities – is preparing to step up and help the people in Parkesburg and beyond once Tower Health pulls its ALS from Western Chester County on September 1.
“Your problem is our problem,” said Bill Wohl of Medic 94 during remarks at the Keystone informational meeting in Parkesburg on Wednesday.
Of EMS services in 2022, he said, “It’s not profitable. It’s not even economically viable on its own.”
Still, good people will continue to help those in need. And Wohl, like everyone else in the room on Wednesday, remains very aware of this.
If there is an emergency in Parkesburg on Sept. 2, the ALS service providers of Medic 94, based across the county in Penn Township, will be there if needed.
“We have to come if we’re called,” Wohl said.
“Tower Health abandoned this community,” he said.
Medic 94, unlike Medic 93 which is now owned by Tower Health and operated via its TowerDIRECT enterprise, is an independent nonprofit organization.
Wohl said it took 20 years, however, ultimately all 18 municipalities in the direct service area of Medic 94 now directly contribute financially to fully fund ALS for their residents.
And although Pennsylvania is currently operating with an annual budget of $40.8 billion, funds aren’t allotted to pay for community firefighters and other local emergency first responders including ALS providers. If not provided locally or regionally by a healthcare system such as Tower, the burden falls on local organizations to reemerge and answer the call, as Medic 94 has done, but with the essential support of funds from the 18 municipalities, their mission is to serve.
Of the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s $80 fiscal year budget, no funds are allotted to pay the operational costs of local fire departments running advanced life support services from their community hubs.
Because Tower Direct is removing its ALS services from the region, Modena Council President Jennifer Daywalt said on Wednesday that Chester County’s smallest municipality is implementing a new local tax to help contribute to advanced life services for their community. Her remarks led to a round of applause, the only moment people cheered during the Keystone meeting in Parkesburg.
“In Chester County, it is ultimately going to come down to our municipalities to ensure our EMS organizations have the funding they need to operate,” said Charles Brogan IV. He is the president of the Chester County EMS Council, Inc.
Yet only a few municipalities in Western Chester County attended the Keystone meeting on Wednesday – despite the topic impacting all residents who live in the region — the immediate loss of local advanced life support services thanks to Tower Health’s decision to close shop effective September 1.
To further exacerbate the difficulties facing EMS, there is not only a staffing shortage but also expenses are far outpacing the revenue that they’re able to collect from insurance billings, as previously reported.
“The vast majority of our medical supplies and medication costs have increased significantly,” Brogan said. “In 2019, we paid $6 for a box of gloves. That same box of gloves is now $14.”
The energy index rose 41.6 percent over the past 12 months, the Department of Labor reported last month. The gasoline index increased 59.9 percent during this span, the largest 12-month increase in that index since March 1980.
This past June, U.S. inflation hit 9.1 percent, smashing a previously held 40-year record. For first responders, the impact is hitting hard. Even so, the numbers continue to rise.
According to the Office of the State Fire Commissioner in Harrisburg, in the 1970s, on average there were roughly 300,000 active firefighters across the state. Today, there’s far less, approximately 38,000. Some first responders say the number is closer to 30,000 — or less.
Not everyone, in fact, most people, cannot afford to be a volunteer these days. Yet the need to help others in need has increased in society, not decreased.
“I’m volunteering my life away,” said Chief John Sly of the Westwood Fire Company.
Yet he volunteers to make a difference in his community.
Of advanced life support, the chief said, “We need this service.”
“This is a crisis,” said Fire Chief Brian Gathercole of the Keystone Valley Fire Department.
Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell said state law forbids the county from creating an emergency tax to help fund local advanced life support services.(JEN SAMUEL — MEDIANEWS GROUP)
Emergency responders await the start of the meeting on July 27 to discuss the imminent departure of Medic 93. (JEN SAMUEL — MEDIANEWS GROUP)