The announcement by Cheshire County last week that it plans to buy the private R.J. DiLuzio Ambulance service was welcome news for the continuity of emergency medical transportation service throughout the county. It also could prove an important step toward a long-needed regional solution to challenges area towns face in providing ambulance services to their residents.

The Keene-based ambulance service, owned by the DiLuzio family since 1975, has been an integral part of the region’s patchwork network of public and private ambulance service providers. It plays a critical role as the primary contract provider of ambulance service to many towns and also as the backup provider to other area communities operating their own ambulance service, including Keene’s Fire Department. But owners Karen and Bob DiLuzio Sr. have been in the business nearly 60 years and were open to an overture from the county, which feared the loss of the service if they were to retire. A deal has now been struck, and it calls for the service to become a publicly owned department of the Cheshire County government. The county hopes to complete the transaction in January, but documents must be finalized and the plans must still undergo government review.

The county’s step in taking on the service is a good one, both for the communities DiLuzio has contracted with and for the ambulance service itself. Like so many components of the nation’s health-care network, ambulance services are challenged with staffing shortages — in this case, in trained EMTs, paramedics and other professionals — and face increasing cost pressures, including from low Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement rates. Though the staffing challenges will remain when the county takes over, DiLuzio Sr. acknowledges that the county, which can offer more attractive retirement and other benefits, is better positioned to recruit scarce staff. The county can also tap into federal and state grants and otherwise use its greater scale and administrative efficiencies to help address the cost pressures.

One concern a proposal of this nature raises is what the impact is on the county’s taxpayers, if any. Nearly all of the funding for purchasing the DiLuzio service assets will be federal American Rescue Plan funds, County Administrator Chris Coates says, and County Commissioner Jack Wozmak, in a WKBK radio interview, said that federal funding will help carry the operation for at least three to five years and that the purchase will not adversely impact taxpayers. Also, the service is user-fee based, and the county will retain all of the primary and backup contracts with area communities, which will clearly support the ongoing operations.

Still, labor and other costs are expected to rise, and, according to Coates, discussions are already underway with the contracted communities, who have been anticipating cost increases. As a result, Wozmak says, the county’s projections are for this to be a break-even operation in a few years, which would be before the current federal support runs out.

The county’s planned purchase of the DiLuzio service also is an important step in the long-glaring need for a more regional solution to pressing needs in the area’s ambulance network. Over the years, The Sentinel has chronicled the gaps in ambulance coverage that have resulted as volunteers to staff crews in towns relying on them have become fewer, all while the training and equipment costs and low Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement challenges have become more acute for all providers. Spreading that burden across the communities by bringing the DiLuzio service under the county’s umbrella is a smart move and positions the county to expand regional support.

The DiLuzio family deserves credit for long providing a valuable public service that is a critical component of the area’s ambulance service needs and for finding a good landing spot for the service. And the county’s initiative in taking it on offers much promise for an overdue regional solution to a regional concern.

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