Sterling Heights Fire Department personnel demonstrate the use of a stretcher at Fire Station No. 5.

Sterling Heights Fire Department personnel demonstrate the use of a stretcher at Fire Station No. 5.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Proposal advances to bill care facilities for some Fire Department services

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published March 22, 2023

 The SHFD demonstrates how a stair chair can move a person.

The SHFD demonstrates how a stair chair can move a person.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


STERLING HEIGHTS — Nursing homes and other care facilities that seek the Fire Department’s assistance in nonemergency cases could soon get a bill if the Sterling Heights City Council follows through with voting to approve a new ordinance.

During a March 7 meeting, the Sterling Heights City Council voted unanimously to introduce a proposal to set up a cost-recovery process that would affect nonemergency EMS runs to certain specialized residential living facilities — such as ones for assisted living, independent living and nursing care — in the city.

“We are experiencing a disproportionate use of our service at these certain facilities that have the capability to respond to these residents,” Sterling Heights Fire Chief Kevin Edmond said.

Edmond added that Sterling Heights’ population is aging, so he called this issue a growing concern.

City officials said the Fire Department has seen a rising trend of 911 calls for nonemergency matters at these facilities. These calls often involve lifting someone who has fallen and can’t get back up easily, due to weight, disability or age. Another in-demand service is nonemergency ambulance transport, officials said.

City officials say these services are expensive, are risky for injuring staff and take away critical manpower, especially when the Fire Department has to juggle simultaneous calls.

As a result, city officials are proposing new fees as both a deterrent to abusing the system as well as a way to recoup some of the expense for nonemergency runs sought by these facilities. Assistant City Attorney Don DeNault Jr. noted that some cities throughout the U.S. have enacted such a policy, including Bloomfield Township, which did so in 2019.

Currently, the proposed fees are set at $500 per nonemergency response or transport and $800 per lift assist. Those fees would be set in the city’s annual appropriations ordinance, so they could be adjusted over time as needed. The fee would be billed to the facility and not the individual resident being treated, DeNault said.

DeNault said the city typically gets around 240 lift assist requests a year. If $800 were charged for each one, the city would get $192,000; if a 30% reduction in cases happens, it would get $134,400, he said.

And he also said the Fire Department does around 400 nonemergency responses annually, which would net $200,000 annually, or $140,000 with a 30% reduction in cases.

DeNault said the city wouldn’t recoup all of the costs through the fee schedule, but the point is to “sort of stop the subsidy and recover enough to make the city almost whole for the use of these services.”

“And then, obviously, the fees, in addition to being a cost recovery mechanism and helping the taxpayers not have to bear this burden, but also it’ll be a potential deterrent — we hope — for 911 misuse,” DeNault added.

Edmond explained that, among Sterling Heights’ 26 elder care facilities, the Fire Department is only interested in billing places that are assisted living centers or that have skilled nursing staff.

“We’re not looking at imposing a fee on our elderly residents if they live at Schoenherr Towers,” he said. “We’ll more than help them and assist them in any needs that they have, because they don’t have that medical staff onsite to take care of them.”

Edmond added that an appeals process — overseen by an internal committee of registered nurses who are also paramedics — would also be established for anyone who disputes a fee. He added that the Fire Department is willing to train facilities and nursing schools on what constitutes an emergency.

Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski said she is very much in favor of the proposal. She said she is the director of nursing for a Jesuit priest retirement center in the Springfield Township/ Clarkston area, and her center never calls emergency services for lifting assistance or nonemergency medical transport because her staff is trained to use equipment to lift patients.

“There’s no reason for these facilities, who charge people $3,000-plus a month … not to be able to have the equipment appropriately and not to be able to take care of the patients,” Sierawski said. “They’ve got the money. They’ve got the time.”

Councilman Henry Yanez and Councilman Michael Radtke also supported the proposal, though they both said the fees were too low. Councilwoman Maria Schmidt asked whether the fee could escalate for frequent violators. Edmond said the fees could be adjusted in the future.

While the City Council successfully introduced the proposal, it has to approve it a second time to formally adopt it. That vote was scheduled for March 21, after press time.

Edmond said that should the council give final approval, the city would then send letters to all local, relevant facilities informing them of the policy change. Then in April, the Fire Department would start a “soft rollout” and start billing the “very egregious” offenders, he said.

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