In Washington County’s world of emergency medical services, Community Rescue Service is the giant.
Two years ago in 2010, Hagerstown-based CRS had 12,153 runs — easily more than half the 20,066 calls handled by all eight of the county’s EMS companies, according to figures from the county Division of Emergency Services.
And last year, the demand for help from the volunteer-owned CRS jumped to nearly 13,000 calls.
All this comes at enormous cost — more than $3.5 million from July 2010 through June 2011, the company’s most complete budget year.
In large part, CRS has been handling the cost itself, rebounding from financial crisis seven years ago to a sizeable reserve now.
But in recent months, trouble has arisen again, forcing the company to ask the county government this month for financial help for at least the coming budget year.
Subsidies bring stability
In summer 2010, the county government began giving each of the EMS companies a special subsidy in recognition of the difficulties all have faced in attracting volunteers — at a time when the county wants to ensure emergency medical response is available 24/7 throughout the area.
In all, the county allocated $1.66 million for its special staffing subsidy, enabling the companies to hire full EMS staffs and pay them wages competitive enough to dim the luster of metro-area EMS salaries that had been luring many away.
For the county’s seven smaller EMS companies, the county’s special subsidy is based on the need to have at least one ambulance staffed and ready to go 24/7. The exact amount of aid depends on how much of that cost each company can pay after billing insurers and patients.
The county’s special subsidy for CRS is figured differently because its operations are so much larger than any of the others, according to Assistant CRS Chief Dave Hays.
But being the largest hasn’t meant it receives the highest subsidy.
Hays, who was on the county committee that recommended the subsidies, said the main aim especially was to help the smaller companies because most of them are so limited by their rural areas in terms of raising money.
“So what we’ve done with this EMS plan is stabilize and provide coverage,” Hays said.
Since the subsidy began in summer 2010, CRS has been receiving a special staffing subsidy of $300,000 a year. Sharpsburg Area Emergency Medical Service, which in 2010 had 658 calls — less than 6 percent of the CRS calls — is getting $309,235 a year.
Not only does CRS have a headquarters station off Eastern Boulevard, but it has substations in Hagerstown’s West End and in Maugansville. And it has 71 employees and about 90 volunteers.
“You can’t consider all of our billing revenue as going into salaries because of the overhead of having seven, eight ambulances, and a lot of buildings. All those things add up to a lot of money,” Hays said.
The 12,153 calls on which CRS ran during 2010 kept CRS so busy it needed at least four ambulance crews ready to go at any moment, based on national standards.
Giant CRS grapples with revenue fall, seeks county help
Number of ambulance calls. (March 24, 2012)