Baltimore studying overhaul of EMS Hiring a private operator 'not seriously' under review

March 08, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Baltimore is studying ways to overhaul the finances of its Emergency Medical Services -- including having a private company provide the service, a controversial idea that some say could lead to life-threatening delays.

"We're not seriously looking at" privatizing services, said Fire Department Chief Herman Williams Jr., who oversees EMS. "But because we're running a deficit, we're just looking at the whole situation."

Mr. Williams and the Fire Department Board recently established an EMS committee, looking for ways to cut the Fire Department's projected $2.5 million budget deficit, he said yesterday.

Among other items being considered by the EMS committee are increasing the cost of an ambulance ride and increasing the collection of fees from patients and their insurers.

Ambulance rides here are far cheaper than in most big cities, Mr. Williams said. Since 1989, Baltimore has charged $75, and $100 for a ride involving advanced life-support services.

The committee is investigating ways to improve the city's low collection rate of 17 percent on EMS fees, Mr. Williams said.

The committee, which includes Mr. Williams, representatives of the board, the city's finance department and state emergency medical service officials, has met twice, most recently yesterday, Mr. Williams said. Representatives of the City Council and the firefighters union -- to which EMS employees belong -- are to join the committee soon.

The union is critical of private ambulance service, asserting that such services have a longer response time.

"The dedication isn't there," said Charles Carroll, a union vice president. "When you privatize, it becomes just a fee-for-service type of thing."

Most middle-class EMS users pay fees through private insurance or Medicare, and many poor people use Medicaid. It's unclear how many indigent ambulance riders simply have no means of paying, Mr. Williams said.

The EMS committee report is to be submitted to Mr. Williams in about a month. He'll send it to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Any changes in EMS services would be subject to the approval of the City Council, Mr. Williams said.

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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