Calumet Twp. trustee: Privatizing ambulance service was lifeline to struggling township

2013-01-09T00:00:00Z 2013-01-09T10:42:06Z Calumet Twp. trustee: Privatizing ambulance service was lifeline to struggling townshipBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
January 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

GARY | The Calumet Township trustee said she has improved the fiscal health of her office by surgically removing its ailing emergency medical services.

Last fall, Trustee Mary Elgin handed over the keys to the township's fleet of three ambulances to the city of Gary.

That was the final chapter in a multiyear transition during which private contractor Prompt Ambulance Service, of Merrillville, took over ambulance responsibilities in the township. Prompt now responds to emergency calls for assistance within the five square miles of unincorporated Calumet Township bounded by Gary, Griffith and Merrillville.

State law gives Indiana township trustees authority to provide fire and ambulance service to residents living outside city and town limits. Prompt does so at no cost to the township.

Many townships are the sole support of firefighting and acute care services for rural Hoosier residents, said Debbie Driskell, executive director of the Indiana Township Association.

Many of Lake County's other townships provide that service through contracts with stand-alone providers, such as Prompt.

Calumet Township elected to buy its own equipment and employ between 18 and 26 full- and part-time employees at a public cost of at least $11.7 million between 2003 and 2011, according to township budget figures.

The Times reported the Calumet Township ambulance service was in financial trouble during the late-1990s when residents of the unincorporated township complained the trustee's service failed to respond to one in five calls for help.

The ambulances were reportedly busy servicing residents inside the city of Gary where the township could collect needed user fees.

Township residents paying for the township's service through taxes were forced to call a private ambulance at their own expense. Then-Trustee Dozier Allen demanded, but failed to obtain, a cash transfusion from county officials, but he refused to bring in a private provider.

Elgin's hand was forced five years ago when state-mandated caps on property taxes and a tax levy freeze caused township revenues to wither.

"We started out with about $800,000 (in property taxes) to operate a 24-hour service," Elgin said. "By 2010, it went down to $250,000, then $125,000, then $50,000 — and it was time to go."

Curtis Whittaker, a financial consultant for Elgin, said Prompt can handle ambulance services more efficiently.

"Prompt is the biggest player in town," he said. "We only could offer basic life support. Prompt runs advanced life support, which we couldn't handle. Everybody was sending cases to Prompt."

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