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by Troy Graham
In the old days, it was throw the patient in the back of the ambulance and rush off to the hospital, said Danny Snyder, an emergency medical technician in Harrison County.
Now, it's a different story. The Harrison County Emergency Squad is equipped and prepared to treat people on the scene, he said. Now, Snyder is able to use his training.
"Our trucks are emergency rooms on wheels," is how new squad Director Don Scott describes the change. "We are health-care providers."
But it wasn't always like that. In fact, the squad has seen its share of troubles over the years, including absent management, loose handling of billing and a sinking morale that concerned the Harrison County Commission so much the commission put the squad on probation and replaced its board.
"It's been a problem for many, many years," said commission President Tom Keeley.
The squad was formerly managed by volunteers, Keeley said.
The ambulances were deteriorated and the technicians and paramedics were not well equipped, Scott said. They didn't even have uniforms. Paramedics were going on runs in jeans and T-shirts, he added.
"The county commission saw that that wouldn't work," Keeley said.
So, the commission disbanded the former board and installed new members and began closely monitoring the squad, Keeley said. The squad recently turned the corner by hiring Scott in May and appointing Bruce Carter, president of United Hospital Center, to its board, Keeley said. Carter has since been appointed president of the board.
"I'm so grateful that he's involved in the whole situation. He's a financial genius," Keeley said of Carter. "I tell you what means more to me is Bruce Carter saying he has all the confidence in the world in Don Scott."
One of the first moves Scott made was to contract out billing to a Pennsylvania firm that handles billing for the City of Pittsburgh. The squad handles $1 million a year in business, he said.
"You can't run that on a part-time basis, come in once a week and try to balance the checkbook," Scott said.
Then he spent $15,000 on maintenance for ambulances. And, Scott bought the squad uniforms.
"Everyone's presentable, everyone's professional," said the Fairmont native.
Scott also bought mountain bikes so technicians and paramedics who have to staff events like the Italian Heritage Festival can move around more easily and an ambulance doesn't have to be on standby. The squad is also planning to open a branch office in West Milford to cut response time to the southern part of the county, Scott said.
"Now we have somebody who knows what EMS is about," said Snyder. "Emergency medicine has progressed so far and (previous management) had no idea what EMS is today."
In addition, the squad is going to apply to the state to have its Medicare rates adjusted. Currently the squad is listed in the same category as smaller counties and only receives $66 in reimbursement for a $250 ambulance run. In similar sized counties, like Ohio County, the state reimburses $115 for a run, Scott said.
Although morale is still not at 100 percent, "it's picking up," Snyder said.
All the changes at the squad have been taken well, said paramedic Jim Swenskie.
"It doesn't matter because it affects everybody," he said. "The whole company's going to do this. We're not going to show any favoritism."
Snyder added, "Everybody now is pitching in to do something."
The changes are welcomed by Keeley as well.
"I think everything's going extremely well now," he said.