BELMAR— A standoff between the borough and the Belmar First Aid Squad over increasing funds paid for medical services will mean that residents will be charged for service starting Dec. 1.
The Belmar First Aid Squad, which is a paid EMS squad that operates on a yearly stipend from Belmar and Lake Como, currently transports residents of both municipalities at no cost. It has been a policy of the squad to bill the insurance providers of residents, but waive deductible, co-pay or out of pocket costs balances that are owed.
Over the past several years the stipend that Belmar pays to the squad has fallen short of the waived out-of-pocket costs, the first aid squad said in a letter to the editor sent to The Coast Star last week. Lake Como residents will continue to not be billed for services.
The point of contention, according to the borough, is that the first aid squad is not letting the
borough looks at its financial records to see how its money is being spent.
“I have been here over 40 years and it’s never been harder for us,” Fran Hines, director of medical services, said about the situation between the first aid squad and the borough. “We are disappointed in the way we are being treated.”
The Belmar First Aid Squad was founded in 1927 and advertises itself as the nation’s first dedicated first aid squad service. In 2018, the squad switched from an all-volunteer squad to one with a mix of volunteer and paid professionals providing 24-hour service to residents of both Belmar and Lake Como. The squad also helps to fund the 30-member Belmar Water Rescue Team, which responds to around 20 calls a year.
Mayor Walsifer said that along with the stipend, the borough has also helped the squad lower its insurance costs, and helped pay the salaries of EMTs for coverage at the beachfront over the summer, and for fuel and supplies from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The mayor contends that because the borough pays the squad $70,000 annually in the stipend and with added costs, so borough officials are entitled to view the financial records of the squad under state law N.J.S.A. 40:5-2. Those financial reports have not been received by the borough.
“Because the Belmar First Aid [Squad’s] business model is obviously not working, myself and our financial team met with the members and requested their financial reports,” Mayor Mark Walsifer told The Coast Star on Tuesday.
The borough’s financial team, the mayor added, “needs to be able to look at the entire operation of the Belmar First Aid Squad’s emergency medical services to see how the taxpayer dollars are being spent.”
When asked why the first aid squad is not complying with the borough’s request to view their financial records, Mr. Hines said that the organization’s attorney told him “that’s not a good idea.”
“I question their motive. Our financial situation has nothing to do with the law that requires me to balance the bill or collect this stipend.”
Mr. Hines said on Tuesday that the borough’s stipend of $33,000 this year is barely enough to cover the squad’s $26,000 yearly insurance costs. In actuality, he said, the squad needs a stipend of around $70,000 to make sure the squad has enough to pay for residents being transported for free.
“We’re just concerned about our longevity and our viability here as an EMS agency because the town is growing all around us in leaps and bounds, and we are almost going backward here,” he said, adding that the squad responds to around 1,100 calls a year, 150 of which are in Lake Como. This past summer was a difficult one for the squad, he said, as the squad had to purchase personal protective equipment to safeguard EMTs from COVID-19.
“This past summer, we saw an incredible number of people in town and we are on the hook for a lot of personal protective equipment,” he added. “We are just trying to find a balance with the borough so we could be here.”
The Borough of Lake Como pays the squad a stipend of $30,000 a year.
Mr. Hines also said that the squad needs to prepare for the future, as he expects new development in Belmar to increase the population of the borough.
The worst-case scenario, Mr. Hines said, would be that the first aid squad goes out of business. He said squad members have spoken with their attorney “about the possibility of liquidating everything and moving on.”
“We don’t want to do that because those of us who are left love Belmar and want to stay here and operate, but [the borough] is making it difficult, for sure,” he added.
“Our professionals need to be able to offer solutions and options to improve their business model,” he added. “As it stands now, the only solution the squad has come up with is to threaten to charge our residents more than what their insurance companies consider customary for this area to make up for their deficits.”
“Until we know where their problems exist, it is not wise to give them more taxpayer dollars without some justification as to how it is being spent.”
This is an excerpt of the print article. For more on this story, read The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.
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