FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The City of Fort Wayne has done what it feels is necessary to finance Three Rivers Ambulance Authorities (TRAA) out of a rut.

That decision was sung to the tune of $3 million.

And with that decision, Fort Wayne City Council has been looking for ways to make sure its investment is taken care of.

“With Council now investing $3 million into that board, we want to make sure we follow that investment with accountability,” said 2nd District Councilman Jehl last week.

To do that, City Council proposed that they should get to appoint one member to the TRAA board in the future, a claim that seems sensible to councilmembers. Currently, only the mayor and county commissioners have appointments.

Under the Interlocal Cooperative Agreement, four board members are appointed by the Mayor of the City of Fort Wayne, and four board members are appointed by the Commissioners of Allen County. The ninth board member is an un-appointed member and is a physician. This board member is always the current Chairperson of the local EMS medical control board.

TRAA’s Website

But despite City Council wanting to push the discussion forward, county commissioners seemingly put a wrench in their plans.

Councilmembers discussed a letter County Commissioners sent to TRAA that caused City Council to hold the issue for four more weeks.

In a letter they wrote to Joel Benz, the executive director of Three Rivers Ambulance Authority (TRAA), they laid out an offer worth up to $400,000.

However, the offer does have a number of requirements TRAA would have to meet in order to get the funding.

On Tuesday, WANE 15 independently obtained a copy of the letter, and the stipulations within.

County Stipulation

  1. Allen County will directly pay Townships and Fire Districts up to a total of $200,000 for runs requested by TRAA which are made into the City of Fort Wayne. This will alleviate the need for the Ambulance Authority to directly reimburse those entities for said runs.
    • Amounts paid to Township Departments and Fire Districts that require transport to a local hospital will be paid at a rate of $400 per run. All other assignments will be paid at a rate of $100 per run.
    • At such time as all funds are expended from that $200,000, TRAA will be required to reimburse Township Fire Departments and Fire Districts at the above-stated amounts for all runs requested into the City of Fort Wayne by TRAA.
  2.  In addition, Allen County will offer TRAA a stipend of $200,000 upon the completion of the five deliverables delineated below. 
    • Create a new Uniform Ambulance Ordinance
    • Develop a new Interlocal Agreement between ALL units which provide EMS services to residents of Allen County
    • Explore and recommend organizational and financial models for a permanent long-term
    • Address four single points of failure of the current TRAA system: 
      • Balance Billing 
      • Medicaid Reimbursements 
      • Transports 
      • Unrecovered Revenues
    • TRAA to cease paying the City $400,000 per year for EMT training for Fort Wayne Firefighters
  3. Allen County will support TRAA’s efforts to ensure better collection rates within their current system. Current fee collection rates continue to have over $200,000 shortfall of budget monthly. Better collection methods and diligence will result in over $1M of additional revenue annually. 
  4.  Allen County will support continued legislative efforts for an increase in the reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid. Increased rates will provide significant additional funding for TRAA operations in the area fees are collected most frequently.
  5. Allen County will encourage the growth and assist the development of existing and future Fire Districts as much as possible so that residents of the City, and those of unincorporated Allen County are paying for high-quality fire and EMS services provided in the areas in which they reside through tax levies exclusively for that purpose. 

City and County ideologies clash

“The letter says that maybe they’ll help, maybe they won’t, maybe they’ll do something different. Well, TRAA ran out of money a couple of months ago, there are still 15,000 people in the county that depend on TRAA,” Jehl said. “For the commissioners to show up after the money has run out, and send a letter that maybe they’ll talk about it, really it’s behind the curve.”

Whether the commissioners will actually help is a question shared by At-Large Councilwoman Michelle Chambers who is glad to have four weeks to evaluate what the commissioners said.

“I’m happy that we’re taking a step back so that we can all digest it and understand it before we give our opinion,” Chambers said. “By that time, we can all have done our research on what does it mean [and] what the commissioners have said to us.”

To Jehl’s comment about being behind the curve, Allen County Commissioner Rich Beck could not disagree more.

“I’d say we’re ahead of the curve, we’ve been in constant conversation with TRAA now for two years or better. City Council is just now coming into the fold,” Beck said.

From Beck’s perspective, the stipulations surrounding funding for TRAA aren’t about the county dragging its feet, it’s about finding a better way to provide EMS to residents.

“We have been encouraging TRAA to consider other business models, to move away from this particular model, becoming dependant on Medicaid reimbursements and their transports are just not a solid foundation for the future financially,” Beck said.

When addressing TRAA’s “business model,” Beck is specifically talking about the Public Utility Model (PUM) that is in place.

Beck said that the model was put in place years ago to make EMS cheaper to provide by not relying on taxpayer dollars.

As a Public Utility Model, TRAA provides service through the use of a contractor for equipment and personnel to staff ambulances and our dispatch center.

TRAA’s Website

In the letter, the commissioners said that the idea of PUM is “collapsing,” and while Beck said the commissioners don’t have the solution, they are ready to work on one.

“We’re waiting for the conversation, we’re waiting on them to commit to having the conversation,” Beck said.

The Letter

The letter from the commissioners opens with historical precedent.

Historically, fire and EMS service has been provided in Indiana by cities, towns and/or townships or a combination of those units of government. The resident taxpayers of those units have paid for the services rendered in those units and those units have had tax levies to provide the same.

Commissioners letter to TRAA

However, the letter continues to point out how things have changed in the past 35 years.

With several annexations, the service area of TRAA has grown, but the county admits one thing has remained unchanged, “the County was still providing no tax funds for fire and EMS service.”

And this plan is their way of closing the gap in services provided to the county, but even with no taxpayer dollars from the county heading to TRAA, the county has still paid for its services.

Unincorporated Allen County residents have provided significant financial and operational support to TRAA. In fact, Township and District EMS providers have made over 3,000 runs into the City of Fort Wayne a full 18 months before City Council acted on March 28, 2023. This volume and method are not “mutual aid” but rather a lifesaving replacement for a non-functioning emergency medical service for Fort Wayne residents. At an operational cost of $400 per run, this represents $1.2 million dollars in direct operational assistance born solely by non-city residents.

Commissioners letter to TRAA

With County Commissioners putting an offer on the table, the ball now rests firmly in TRAA’s court, leaving Joel Benz and his board with a major decision to make.