Maine town may drop provider in EMS squabble
The company announced it would no longer keep an ambulance in a nearby town overnight, which has raised concerns about response time
By Paul Koenig
RICHMOND, Maine — The decision last month by the town of Dresden to switch ambulance providers, using the city of Gardiner instead of a private company, might be causing another shake-up of rescue services in a neighboring town.
The potential change is the latest squabble between emergency medical service providers trying secure contracts with towns and cities, while many municipalities look for places to cut costs amid tighter budgets.
Richmond is considering dropping its ambulance service after the company, North East Mobile Health Services, announced earlier this month it would be no longer keeping an ambulance in Dresden overnight.
The contract required the company to keep an ambulance there between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., but North East moved the overnight ambulance after losing its ambulance contract with Dresden to Gardiner's ambulance service.
Town officials in Richmond were caught off guard by the announcement from North East that the company would be serving the town during overnight hours from the company's Topsham base. Board of Selectmen Chairman Peter Warner said there was no indication that the company would be serving the town from the Topsham location, more than 17 miles away from Richmond.
Warner said the selectmen, at their July 9 meeting with North East, offered space at the Richmond fire station to keep an ambulance, but the company declined.
North East will continue to provide emergency response service to Richmond, but Warner said he's concerned about response time in the overnight hours, especially if ambulances in Topsham are covering calls in other areas. He said the company previously had much better response times than the 17-minute average required by the contract.
"It does concern me. I'm not sure if they can meet those response times from Topsham," Warner said.
Butch Russell, CEO of North East, said in an interview before the meeting that the company would be moving its ambulance from the Dresden fire station after its contract with Dresden ended July 1.
Last week, Polly Miller, vice president for business development, referred questions about the change to the Topsham station, which didn't respond to requests for comment. Russell wasn't available for comment.
Warner said the selectmen will discuss their next steps at their 6 p.m. Wednesday meeting. He said the board might seek proposals from other ambulance service providers.
Richmond switched from Gardiner to North East in 2008 because Gardiner had sent unpaid bills to Richmond and North East offered to take care of any bills not covered by the patients or their insurance.
Gardiner Ambulance Service, which provides EMS and rescue service to eight communities, attempted to bring Richmond back last year by offering free service, as North East does. Even by not charging Richmond, it would have allowed the city's ambulance service to drop costs for all communities because of the increased revenue from serving Richmond.
However, because the Richmond Board of Selectmen already had voted in 2012 to use North East for service, even though it hadn't negotiated a new contract, the board voted to stick with the private company.
Warner said the decision to stick with North East despite not having a contract at the time makes the company's recent move to disregard part of the current contracting more troubling.
"Now they just walk away from it. I really did not like the action on their part," Warner said.
If Richmond requests new proposals for ambulance service, Gardiner would try to win the contract again, Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli said. He said the city planned to submit a proposal after the North East contract expires next year anyway.
Adding Richmond to the city's ambulance service would allow the city to lower costs for the communities to be members, he said. The increased revenue from serving Richmond also would allow the city to maintain the level of emergency medical technicians and purchase the necessary equipment to respond to emergencies in those communities, Morelli said.
"We welcomed Dresden back and look forward to welcoming Richmond back as well," he said.
Gardiner also made a move last year to provide ambulance service to Monmouth, but the town chose to go with the town of Winthrop's ambulance service. The city has been trying to increase its ambulance revenue base partly because some partner towns have considered switching to other ambulance companies, such as North East or Delta Ambulance.
Nearby Farmingdale heard a presentation earlier this year from Delta, which has bases in Waterville and Augusta, but decided to stick with Gardiner.
Russell, the North East CEO, said in the late-June interview that the decision by Dresden to switch to Gardiner Ambulance Service will lead to longer response times for the town. He also said he thinks the actual costs for the unpaid bills Dresden will have to cover will end up being higher than what's projected.
"Obviously it's a financial roll of the dice, and hopefully it works out for them," Russell said.
©2014 Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine)
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