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Tri-Community South EMS earns international distinction
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Part of Bill Harper’s job is gathering information from his Tri-Community South EMS colleagues.

“It kind of becomes a joke that when they see me start walking around asking for stuff, everyone ducks into another room,” he said.

But all members of the staff are serious when it comes to helping provide what’s necessary for the emergency medical services provider to earn an international distinction.

Tri-Community South – which serves Bethel Park, South Park Township and Upper St. Clair – is one of only 178 ambulance services throughout the United States, Canada and West Indies to receive a three-year accreditation from the Commission for the Accreditation of Ambulance Services.

The local EMS is one of only five services in Pennsylvania and among only a few municipally owned services to achieve the accreditation.

“We were able to get a perfect score,” according to Tri-Community South director Nora Helfrich.

As such, she and her staff demonstrate a commitment to the top priority for the independent, nonprofit CAAS: quality patient care.

“It’s a step above, and I decided to do that because when I took the service over in 2000, there was nothing written down,” Helfrich said. “There were no guidelines. And I said that was never going to happen to the person who followed me.”

The first CAAS accreditation for Tri-Community South came in 2006, and the process involved has not ceased since.

“Please understand that this is not a once-every-three-years type of effort,” operations supervisor Tim Hall said.

“It’s been a continuous process over three years, reviewing the standards, updating our files, attempting to keep everything in compliance. It’s not something that an agency can go through and throw together in a day, a week, a month.”

To illustrate, Tri-Community South submitted some 1,900 pages’ worth of electronically formatted material to CAAS as part of the most recent accreditation.

“It’s everything from patient care to maintenance to making sure our building has the correct signage on it. We have to check that,” said Harper, an emergency medical technician. “Our community relation programs, community feedback, what people talk about us, send us thank you notes or complaints, we have to track all of that.”

Also helping the cause was another Tri-Community South supervisor, Shawn McDermott, who pulled a significant amount of information for CAAS evaluators who were unable to visit the Bethel Park headquarters in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was sitting at a computer, and whatever they would ask for, I’d be able to find it in the files and share a screen with them so that we could go over it,” he said.

The impediment required assistance from Tri-Community South’s information technology department.

“We had to set up iPads so that they could interview the crews, use the cameras on those, go around and check different things,” Hall said. All of the staff needs to be aware of everything, know what the policy and procedures are, how things work. So it was a more difficult process.”

Beyond Tri-Community South, members of the municipal staffs of Bethel Park, South Park and Upper St. Clair contributed significantly.

“It would not be possible without the support of the communities, them being behind us and agreeing to let us do this, and set the standard for ourselves and the service that we provide to the communities,” Hall said.

Although the municipalities share ownership in the EMS, Tri-Community South is responsible for generating the revenues necessary to operate with a $3 million annual budget, much of which goes toward ensuring that vehicles and equipment are in top shape.

A subscription drive, which starts in late October, will seek subscriptions at $60 per individual or $70 for a household, including guests. Those who subscribe receive a 50% discount in co-payment for ambulance calls.

Tri-Community South accepts donations, and the service also is reimbursed by insurance companies, but not in all cases.

“We are not a participating provider with Highmark. If you’re not a participating provider, they mail the check to the patient,” Helfrich said. “The patient cashes it, and we never get the money.”

The proper course of action, she explained, is to turn the reimbursement over to Tri-Community South. Many of those who receive checks, though, are unaware of the circumstances.

A state House of Representatives bill introduced in April seeks to rectify the situation for services throughout Pennsylvania, requiring that “a payment made by an insurer for a claim covered under and in accordance with a health insurance policy for an emergency medical service performed by the EMS agency during the call shall be paid directly to the EMS agency.”

Similar measures, though, have failed in the past, according to Helfrich.

Whatever the case, she encourages residents of Bethel Park, South Park and Upper St. Clair to be cognizant of the demonstrably high quality of service that Tri-Community South provides.

“We do need the support of everybody.”

For more information, visit tcsems.org.

Peters Township pursues sharpshooting deer-management program
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Peters Township has taken the first step toward a potential sharpshooting deer-management program.

During their latest meeting, township council members voted 4-3 to authorize police Chief Douglas Grimes to file a permit application with the Pennsylvania Game Commission for a firearms-based initiative to complement the existing archery program to cull deer. Voting against were Frank Arcuri, Monica Merrell and Gary Stiegel Jr.

According to Grimes, the archery program has not achieved the desired result of a significant reduction in deer-car collisions and of property and crop damages. He told council over the past five years, the number of annual collisions that are reported consistently has been in the range of the low 70s to low 90s.

“What we see from year to year is our archers are predominantly only taking one or two deer as part of this program,” Grimes said. “We have a couple who veer off the scale there and get eight, nine or 10. But for the archery program to be successful, they need to take many more deer than that, to limit that population and reduce the number of car-deer collisions.”

Applying for the Game Commission permit at this juncture is necessary if a sharpshooting program has the possibility of going into effect for early 2022, he said.

“If we don’t file the applications now to at least be considered for that process,” he said, “we’ll miss that deadline, and we’ll be talking about this again next year.”

Should the permit be granted and the initiative gain council’s approval, it will involve a pair of officers in Grimes’ department who “have been approved by the Pennsylvania Game Commission as certified nuisance wildlife control operators for this type of program,” he wrote in a letter to township manager Paul Lauer.

“I’m proposing that they do this while on duty when staffing is sufficient to allow them this opportunity,” Grimes said at the council meeting. “They would be only two, and the cost to the township would be minimal.”

The amount listed by Lauer in township documents is $21,000.

Grimes said the effort would start on township property and “then move out as opportunity exists with private ground.”

“There’s a bait that’s put down that draws the deer from miles around, theoretically,” he said about the process. “It’s a very controlled manner. These people are expert marksmen who do this. They only take the shot when it’s safe to do so. The meat goes to one of the special projects for the hungry.”

Council members who opposed the sharpshooting permit application questioned whether the archery program could be made more effective.

“If we were more proactive, we probably would have more properties, and if we were more proactive in recruitment, we’d have more archers,” Arcuri said. “I’m not a big supporter of using firearms and opening that whole can of worms that was opened in Mt. Lebanon.”

That municipality has faced prolonged opposition to its sharpshooting program, and Peters Township could be subject to something similar if efforts toward implementation proceed.

“I think there’s going to be interest inside the community,” Lauer said, “and it may well make sense to have a public hearing on this subject prior to doing it.”

Single-vote majorities move aquatic center project forward in Peters Township
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The division within Peters Township Council regarding a proposed multimillion-dollar aquatic center continues.

Most votes on moving the center forward have gained approval by a 4-3 margin, and the same went for three measures on the agenda of council’s latest meeting.

James Berquist, Frank Kosir Jr., Robert Lewis and David Ball, council chairman, cast ballots in favor of a change order to the design contract for the center, along with authorizations for staff members to prequalify contractors as potential bidders and to solicit bids for the project.

Continuing their opposition were Frank Arcuri, Monica Merrell and Gary Stiegel Jr.

The change order in the contract with Kimmel Bogrette Architecture + Site includes revision to the center’s original design that “will result in estimated savings in construction costs of $1.455 million,” according to a fact sheet distributed at the council meeting and made available on the township’s website.

A variety of items have been dropped, most notably a “lazy river” feature.

“It takes less than a minute to go around it, and it’s cost is about $400-$450,000. I don’t think that’s an amenity that makes sense to be included,” township manager Paul Lauer said. “If you eliminate this, it gets it closer to the target that I believe we ought to be shooting for, about $2 million in savings over the original design.”

In May, council rejected all bids for the center when the lowest came in at $11.482 million. Subsequently, Kimmel Bogrette developed a “value engineering report” outlining potential savings.

At the start of September, the township hosted a series of open houses during which residents were able to ask questions and receive more information about the project. They also were asked to fill out a survey regarding the aquatic center, and other residents had the ability to do so online.

“When I look at the survey results, what I see is what we have seen before,” Lauer told council. “There is a majority of people in Peters Township who would like us to go ahead with this project, based upon that survey.”

The results show 71% of the 643 survey respondents answered affirmatively to the question: “Should the user fees be set so that aquatic center users pay all cost associated with the operation of the Rolling Hills Aquatic Center including administrative costs?”

“This paying for itself doesn’t change whether you’re in favor of the pool or opposed to the pool,” Lauer said. “I think there’s a universal expectation that the pool cover its operating costs, which I think has implications for setting fees.”

  • An operations study submitted to the township in April by BallardKing & Associates, a Colorado consulting firm specializing in recreation and sports center feasibility studies, gives the example of a full-center daily rate of $8 for individual township residents ages 59 and younger, and $10 for nonresidents.

For the center to pay for its operational and administrative costs, fees may have to be set at higher rates.

  • “That would seem like it would be logical, because their estimates were several months ago, and now the current environment for hiring people and paying people has changed,” Merrell said. Hourly wages cited by BallardKing, for example, range from $10.50 for cashiers and attendants to $17 for aquatics center supervisors.

She questioned whether the prospect of higher fees would dissuade some residents from continuing to support the center.

More information is available at www.peterstownship.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=153.