West Side Community Ambulance is feeling the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
Michael Courtney, chief of ambulance operations, said calls for service have dropped significantly since the pandemic struck in mid-March.
And fewer of those calls are resulting in the patient transports which generate revenue for the taxpayer-supported ambulance service.
Earlier in the year, Courtney said, West Side appeared to be on a positive track.
The service was fully staffed and call volumes were increasing.
“Everything was looking really good. We were trending upward until about the end of February, and then COVID hit,” Courtney explained. “Our total transports went down significantly, and we have continued on that trend.”
He said that, in pre-COVID months, the service would run around 120 transports daily.
“Now we are down below 100. We are off by a good 20-25 percent in volume,” Courtney said. “That equates to revenue.”
He told Mattos Newspapers that the ambulance is receiving fewer overall calls.
Courtney said part of that may be due to people largely staying at home and being generally less active.
But he also said that he has no doubt that people are simply more hesitant to call 911.
And among those who do summon aid, fewer are being transported.
Before COVID hit, West Side was transporting a patient on about two-thirds of calls, Courtney reported. That percentage fell to 52 percent in March before rebounding slightly to 56 percent in April.
“It is largely because people are afraid to go to the hospital,” Courtney commented in April. “Honestly, I think my staff are cautioning people as well if they are borderline and could wait. They are trying to do their best to minimize people’s exposure.”
Those who need to be transported are, he emphasized at the time, but at the same time “we are trying to not put people in a situation that they don’t want to be in.”
As a small operation covering a large geographic area, West Side has few options for cutting costs as revenues decline. The provider staffs two ambulances 24 hours a day.
“We’re not like an AMR that has 15 or 20 ambulances and can say that they are not going to staff three until the volume picks up,” Courtney said. “We can’t do that here because it would leave us uncovered. Reducing cars is not an option.”
The service, which is operated by the West Side Community Healthcare District, got a financial boost through a federal coronavirus relief program.
Courtney said West Side received more than $200,000 in Paycheck Protection Program funds arranged through Mechanics Bank.
“They definitely stepped up to the plate and helped us out a bunch,” Courtney said. “That truly helps with the payroll for a couple of months.”
But, he acknowledged, the financial outlook is a concern - particularly if the downturn in calls and transports continues.
“If things start to pick up by the beginning of summer I think we’ll be fine,” Courtney told Mattos Newspapers. “If it continues longer-term, it will be a financial impact.”