Living in a rural area has its appeal. The natural beauty of the woods, the pristine lakes and rivers, and the wildlife are just a few of the highlights.
It is what drew Bill Lovejoy and his wife to their retirement home in Shohola. But last Christmas, Lovejoy had what one might describe as a rude awakening. He was hit with the truth that where he lives, there is no local emergency medical service, local ambulance, or local police.
“I was spreading salt to melt the ice in front of my home for family arriving that day, and slipped," he recalls. "I knew I had broken my ankle. My wife could never have helped me up. I was lucky that my two grandsons were there to help put me into an SUV and drive me to the hospital. I starting thinking, if I had a heart attack or stroke, I probably would be dead.”
It was the catalyst Lovejoy needed to help create the Pike County Emergency Services Initiative Fund at Greater Pike Community Foundation. His generous donation is intended to seed a county-wide fund to provide training to new and existing emergency responders.
Lovejoy was group vice president of sales and marketing at General Motors.
“I’ve been very fortunate in life, and I’ve done very well," he said. "Pike County to me is so charming and such a delightful place, we have to replace the services that we lost.”
He hopes that in five years, the fund will maintain trained emergency medical technicians (EMTs) during the day and volunteers at night.
Lovejoy isn’t the only one in the area to help fill this need. Last fall, Jason Ohliger and Ashley Zimmerman, partners at the law firm Weinstein, Zimmerman & Ohliger, spearheaded a $5,000 donation from the firm to create a scholarship fund to train EMTs. When that fund is exhausted, the firm will help support the Pike County Emergency Services Initiative Fund at Greater Pike. Ohliger says the firm is community-minded.
“We are hopeful that through the creation of this fund and the momentum that came from it, people will understand the importance of this to our community and donate," Ohliger said.
Pike County Commissioner Matt Osterberg is enthusiastic.
“This program helps as an incentive for volunteers and to offer a career path for our young people,” he said. “The commissioners are behind this 100 percent. It will help provide better and more efficient medical services in Pike County.”
The fund agreement will be officially signed by the county commissioners at their meeting on Wednesday, March 18.
Still, a long-term solution is needed. Osterberg notes that Pennsylvania state law doesn’t allow a county to impose a tax for emergency services.
“It is the sole responsibility of local municipalities,” he said.
Osterberg says he is working on changing the law to allow a partnership between county and local government.
“The solution I envision is a countywide authority composed of one representative from each municipality and one county rep," he said.
Osterberg added that PA Senator Lisa Baker has drafted legislation with input from the counties. And although it may mean a tax on residents, he wonders: who wouldn’t want to pay for needed emergency services in their community?
Call volume is 'through the roof'
Bernie Swartwood is Pike County’s Director of Public Safety. He welcomes any funding that will help train emergency technicians. He says there’s an EMS crisis not only in Pike County, but across the commonwealth.
“Legislation needs to change, but it will take a long time,” he said.
Swartwood noted there is a paucity of volunteers willing to take training classes, and many municipalities are not offering incentives.
“Eventually, the volunteer system will go away as people are already working two jobs and training requirements are more stringent," he said.
He says call volume is "through the roof.”
“Eighty percent of my job is figuring out how to get ambulances to people who need them," said Swartwood.
Jenni Hamill, executive director of the Greater Pike Community Foundation Fund, said, “A large part of this initiative is investing in our local heroes who give so much to keep us safe. The impetus for this project is inspirational and it demonstrates that working together – local residents, businesses, government and Greater Pike can help to solve a very serious problem. For our part, Greater Pike will accept donations to this burgeoning fund and hopefully keep the momentum going.”
Donations to the Pike County Emergency Services Initiative Fund may be made through Greater Pike Community Foundation by making checks payable to GPCF-PCESI. For questions or additional information, contact Jenni Hamill at 570 832-4686 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Eighty percent of my job is figuring out how to get ambulances to people who need them." Bernie Swartwood, Pike County’s Director of Public Safety