As both Brookfield and Riverside search for ways to increase revenue in 2010 for general operations, both towns are exploring raising fees they charge for ambulance services.

Riverside last upped its ambulance fees for both residents and non-residents in 2007. For residents in 2007, basic life support services were hiked 45 percent to $400, while advanced life support services jumped 85 percent to $600. Non-resident fees jumped 16 percent and 43 percent for basic and advanced life support, respectively, to $550 and $750.

At the time, Fire Chief Kevin Mulligan said that the fee increases could bring in an additional $20,000 per year in revenue. It turned out that his estimates were low. In 2007, Riverside collected about $51,000 more in ambulance fee revenues than in 2006.

After collecting between $101,600 and $107,000 per year in ambulance fees from 2004 to 2006, Riverside has topped $155,000 in the past two years. In 2009, the village has collected $132,182 through October, according to Kevin Wachtel, Riverside’s finance director.

On Monday night the village board increased ambulance fees by $100 per call for basic, advanced and critical life support services for both residents and non-residents.

According to Mulligan the increases “would result in an approximate increase of at least $25,000 in revenues, based on our 2008 calls for ambulance service and collection percentage rate.”

Like Brookfield, Riverside does not collect 100 percent of the amount it bills for ambulance services. Both villages attempt to recoup whatever they can from residents’ insurance companies, but do not attempt to collect the balance from residents.

“Our goal is to collect the monies available to us through the insurance companies to offset our operating costs,” Mulligan wrote in his memo.

Speaking at the Nov. 2 meeting of the village board, Mulligan stated that Riverside collects about 64 percent of what it bills for ambulance services.

“Typically, a good collection rate is between 60 and 70 percent,” Mulligan said.

Brookfield seeks to reap $377,050 in fees

While Riverside is projecting modest revenue increases, Brookfield is looking to increase its annual ambulance fee collections by $377,050, according to a plan submitted to the village board last month by Fire Chief Patrick Lenzi.

With the village looking everywhere for additional revenue for general operations, the village board seems to be leaning toward approving the hikes.

Lenzi is proposing raising advanced life support services 66.6 percent in 2010, from $600 to $1,000. The $400-per-call increase is projected to net almost $275,000 based on past call volume.

The chief is also asking to increase the fee for basic life support services 50 percent, from $500 per call to $750. Such a hike would bring in an additional $102,250 in revenue, according to Lenzi.

In addition, Brookfield may also raise the fee for a paramedic response that does not involve transport to the hospital 66.6 percent, from $300 to $500.

Lenzi also proposed adding language to the ordinance for ambulance fees, stating that “mutual-aid ambulance responses will be given resident-of-Brookfield privileges.”

Brookfield does not seek additional compensation from residents for ambulance calls beyond the amount paid to the village by insurance companies. The village bills non-residents for payments not covered by insurance. Brookfield’s past practice has been to treat mutual aid billing the same as Brookfield resident billing. The language would formalize the past practice. 

Brookfield has mutual aid agreements with neighboring communities such as Lyons, Riverside, LaGrange Park and LaGrange and will respond to calls there if paramedics in those towns are already busy. The other villages’ paramedics do the same for Brookfield.

Adding the language regarding mutual aid calls, stated Lenzi, “helps to keep mutual aid relationships strong and reinforces the spirit of cooperation.”

The biggest challenge for the Brookfield Fire Department in recent months has been collecting money they’ve billed.

In May, the department lost its only administrative secretary when she was laid off. According to Lenzi, that staff member spent 15 to 20 hours a week dealing with ambulance billing issues.

Since her departure, Lenzi has been doing that job, and he says he doesn’t have the same kind of time to devote to it. Every three or four weeks, Lenzi said, he gathers the billing reports and brings them to the village’s collection agency.

Since May, Brookfield’s ambulance fee collections have suffered, according to village records. For the first five months of the year, Brookfield collected $26,520 on average per month from ambulance fees. In the second five months, the average was $16,184 per month.

“I don’t have that kind of time to devote fully to that process,” Lenzi said.