City must take action on services

Members of Steubenville City Council are facing an issue that could, if not quickly resolved, become a matter of life or death for city residents.

Ambulance service in the city currently is being provided by Ambulance Service Inc., a private firm whose owners, the D’Anniballe family, have a long history of service to the community.

Unfortunately, as the demographics of the community change and a greater number of calls for service are either covered by Medicare or Medicaid — or are “no pays,” for those who have no insurance — it has become a losing proposition to continue to make emergency runs in the city, as Robert D’Anniballe of ASI explained to council members on Jan. 21.

That has led ASI to deploy its services to the more lucrative business of transports between nursing homes and hospitals.

Since ASI crews might not always be available to respond when an emergency call comes in to the Jefferson County 911 center, Steubenville has been forced to rely on mutual aid from Wintersville, Mingo Junction and Toronto, communities that have funded their ambulance services through taxpayer-backed levies.

While calls have been answered, the city and those communities have reached a breaking point. Last week, Mingo Junction Village Council heard concerns about the number of calls its ambulance service had to answer in Steubenville. And Tuesday, Rob Herrington, Jefferson County’s 911 director and Wintersville’s fire chief, told members of Steubenville council that the current level of mutual aid coverage is no longer sustainable.

Herrington said in the 24 hours prior to Tuesday’s meeting, his crews alone had responded to nine calls in Steubenville. That gap in coverage could potentially lead to a situation where a resident of Wintersville, for example, whose tax dollars are paying for the ambulance, might have to wait for emergency services. Herrington warned council that if he is ordered to stop answering calls in Steubenville, the city will find itself in trouble.

This clearly has become an unworkable situation, and one that needs immediate attention.

Joe Ribar, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 228, said his members are ready to propose a 100 percent fire-based EMS service to City Council. He added that creation of such a service will require a concerted effort among City Manager Jim Mavromatis, City Council, the union, Fire Chief Carlo Capaldi and city Finance Director Dave Lewis. Ribar has indicated that the union has been pricing equipment and calculating additional staffing that would be required to make that possible.

Among the biggest issues they will face is how any new system will be funded.

D’Anniballe, for instance, on Jan. 21 said there are creative ways to fund the service, including grants, staffing and in-kinds, adding that type of public-private partnership could be a workable solution. That, in his opinion, would be better for the city than asking residents to support a levy.

Whatever solution is decided on, the time for action has arrived.

Those involved with the ambulance services that have been answering the calls in Steubenville deserve thanks from city residents for their dedication to their craft.

Now it’s time for Steubenville to take whatever action is needed to ensure that its residents have access to emergency services when they are needed.