The following report by Zach Patberg appears in the Asbury Park Press.
With a crowd in the hundreds, seniors continued pushing back Wednesday against a proposal to trade in the township’s public ambulance service for a private one, calling the effort to shave $1 million from the budget too risky when dealing with emergency care.
The Lions Head Woods development was the third adult community that township officials have visited in the past several weeks to allay growing concerns among the elderly over losing the Emergency Medical Services Department.
“We adult community “cash cows’ are outraged with the shabby treatment to which we are consistently and repeatedly subjected by Lakewood’s political leaders,” said Don Albanese, one of more than 200 seniors who attended. “EMS must stay in at least the manner it is serving now.”
Disbanding the department, which costs about 60 percent more money to run than it brings in, would save the township roughly $1 million a year – significant relief, officials say, to a budget bent under the weight of a recession and the state’s 4-percent tax increase cap. But it also would mean some 28 layoffs and a possible cost-burden shift to the individual patient.
With its announcement in December, the privatization proposal cut immediate divides in the population, with some applauding the spending cut and others predicting diminished services and stiffer medical bills that would put the town’s some 16,000 fixed-income seniors at risk.
“To me it makes sense if they’re going to save that kind of money,” said Eugene Cautillo, 66, a Lions Head resident and member of the township’s senior advisory committee.
Yet those who are protesting have only gotten louder as the township mulls its options. Four ambulance companies turned in proposals for the takeover: MONOC Hospital Services Corp., Alert Ambulance Services, Gem Ambulance and Quality Medical Transport. All were required to promise a level of service equal to the EMS department and all guaranteed no cost to the township, according to officials.