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.”

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Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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