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Rescue Squad Eyes New Revenue Source, New Facility Location

Matthew Hersh

The Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad, citing increasing costs incurred from new equipment puchases and the maintenance of its 41-year-old facility, may look to start billing for service. The move would be a departure for the rescue squad, an organization that has long been a free service.

The squad has been exploring the idea for about 18 months, said Chief Greg Paulson. For the patients, it would most likely have little impact, as most already pay for ambulance services through insurance. Patients calling an ambulance in an emergency already receive a bill from the paramedics for that care. Mercer County's paramedic service is provided by Capital Health Systems.

"If you call the ambulance, we come, we take you to the hospital, nothing changes. There's no consideration for your ability to pay, and we don't even ask about it because, in fact, it's illegal to ask about it," Chief Paulson said.

Once the squad brings a patient to the hospital, a volunteer obtains the insurance information, either from the patient or the hospital. The subsequent bill would usually go directly to the insurance company. "Many of our patients won't even see a bill," Chief Paulson said. In the case of a co-payment, the squad will be required to send a bill to the patient, Chief Paulson added. However, as a 501(c)(3), non-profit, charitible organization, the squad will have a "very clear, written charity care policy" and will deal with payment difficulties on a case-by-case basis, he added.

"We're not in this to turn a profit," Chief Paulson said.

The chief added that 47 percent of the squad's patients were from outside of Princeton and thus unable to contribute to the organization's annual fund drive.

The billing for service would provide "significant" income for the squad, and while not in any financial trouble, the service is in a constant fight to remain up-to-date in equipment and can "barely cover its operating budget," Mr. Paulson said.

Additionally, he said, its aging facility at the corner of Clearview Road and Harrison Street has increasingly become a problem, both financially and spatially, for the 60-member volunteer squad.

Of its funding, the rescue squad currently receives $150,000 from the Princeton Borough and Township combined, with the Township shouldering two-thirds of the cost. In addition, the organization depends on private donations, donations from large corporations, and an monies accrued from an annual fund drive to shoulder the various costs incurred in its operations. But while the rescue squad has maintained the same dollar amount in past fund drives, the number of people donating money has decreased by five percent, Mr. Paulson said.

While squad representatives have already appeared before Borough Council, they must also meet before Township Committee and other community organizations before the squad can move forward with the initiative.

"This was probably harder for us to come to terms with than it will be for anyone in the community, because we're still volunteering our time, but we had to realize simply that health care in the United States has cost to it," Chief Paulson said.

Similar programs have been widely successful in other communities, Chief Paulson said, with the only major criticism being when there is not enough communication with the residents.

The additional income will also serve as an impetus to start examining future sites. Lodged in a 41-year-old facilty that was initially designed to house "Cadillac ambulances," the squad has begun to grow out of its proverbial baby clothes.

"Since before I joined the squad, we've had space problems, but it's become even more acute in the last five years. Our vehicles sit outside all the time, and we barely have the space to conduct the training classes we need to," Chief Paulson said.

"We've been pouring a lot of money into a building that has been inadequate for our needs." As such, the squad has located a plot of land for sale across from the Shell Station on Bayard Lane that "could" suit its needs if the facility were to move.

Rescue squad representives held a community meeting Friday night with neighbors of the Bayard Lane neighborhood. Chief Paulson said that particular area would be well-suited for the squad because of its location.

"We want to be part of the residential community, but we are only in the beginning of this process," he said.

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