Rising fuel prices pose challenges for EMS providers

“We’re really kind of up against a wall in trying to find solutions to be able to keep providing a high performance EMS system for our communities.”
Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 7:21 PM CDT
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BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) -High fuel prices are hitting Americans in the pocketbook hard. The high fuel prices are also taking their toll on emergency responders.

According to AAA, today’s national average price for a gallon of diesel is $5.32. EMS providers are working to find solutions to combat the inflation at the pump. it’s a problem that’s hitting service providers from every direction. but unlike delivery and trucking companies, most ambulance providers have fixed rates.

“We were averaging about $5000 per month so now we’re looking at about anywhere between $11,000 and $13,000 added fuel cost,” said Robertson County EMS Director Steven Von Gonten.

It’s a problem that’s hitting ambulance and emergency service providers from every direction. Unlike delivery and trucking companies, most providers are unable to pass the cost to patients.

Ricky Reeves is with Granbury Hood County EMS and the Executive Director of the Texas EMS Alliance. He says Service provider reimbursements from government insurance providers, like Medicaid and Medicare, and some private insurance carriers do not cover the full cost of sending an ambulance out on a call, and in most cases, they only get paid for one-way trips or receive compensation for loaded miles.

“We rely on the reimbursements we get from Medicare and Medicaid which are fixed reimbursements as well as some of the insurance companies which are fixed so therefore we are not able to take the increase we’re seeing,” said Reeves.

Some providers are having to dip into their reserve funds or the budget for next year. In Lavaca County, Michael Furrh, the EMS director, and Texas EMS Alliance Board Member say his department has already reached its fuel budget for the fiscal year.

“We still have about three months left in our year’s fiscal budget, our fiscal year budget and we are out of money for fuel,” said Furrh

To compound the fuel problems Furrh says some of his employees are leaving to find other jobs closer to home.

“To lose good employees simply because it’s hard for them to fill up their vehicle to come to work and provide that service that’s thought. That’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Furrh

According to the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals (TORCH), Texas leads the nation in rural hospital closures making the situation even more critical for EMS providers in rural areas where the closest hospital may be more than 40 miles away.

“Here in Robertson County you know we may have trucks that come all the way from Bremond so you’re talking about you know 50 plus miles and that’s just a one-way trip so you’re adding over a hundred miles just on one truck just for one transport,” said Von Gonten.

To combat costs without sacrificing quality care companies are finding ways to cut down on fuel costs. Some providers are now limiting travel for meetings and trainings. Providers are also hoping quicker turnaround times at hospitals will allow trucks not to idle as long due to the equipment and medications that may be on board.

First responders say despite the rise in fuel prices they’re not changing the way they respond to emergencies or the number of emergencies they respond to, but they will continue to seek ways to try and save fuel and reduce cost.

Butch Oberhoff with Acadian Ambulance and Vice President of the Texas EMS Alliance says they hope lawmakers on the state and federal levels will step in to help combat the rising inflation.

“We’re really kind of up against a wall in trying to find solutions to be able to keep providing a high-performance EMS system for our communities,” said Oberhoff. " We have looked at reaching out to lawmakers. I know there is a big effort at the federal level to try and address the reimbursement rate and take a better look at how EMSs are reimbursed, especially considering all the challenges that were up against.”

“We were grateful that the legislature in Texas at least understood our pleas for help for our workforce shortages and they did a lot, a very generous amount of money from the American Rescue Plan Act to help us with workforce development but our reimbursements still are what it’s been and were just in a tough position right now as an industry.”

Fuel Increase Chart  courtesy of the Texas EMS Alliance.
Fuel Increase Chart courtesy of the Texas EMS Alliance.(KBTX)

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