Woolwich eyes cost to expand ambulance service

Posted:  Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 7:15am

The Woolwich select board got an idea Monday night what it might cost to get the town its own ambulance service.

Fire Chief Mike Demers and EMS director Brian Carlton reviewed their proposal. It came in response to an anticipated increase for ambulance services North East Mobile Health provides. The town’s contract with the Topsham-based provider expires in June 2019.

Voters raised $44,000 this year for emergency medical services including operation and staffing of its ambulance. Going it alone would swell the budget to an estimated $134,630, although Carlton said projected ambulance revenues of $75,000 would trim the net cost to $59,630.

Carlton explained the change would require staffing the station with one per diem employee 12 hours a day, five days a week, Monday through Friday. On-call members of the Woolwich Fire Department would continue to cover weekends and evenings. EMS responders would be paid a competitive hourly wage, capped at 24 hours a week, continued Carlton.

He and Demers believe manning the ambulance station will increase Woolwich’s mutual aid capabilities and create more revenue opportunities. Bath’s or possibly Wiscasset’s ambulance service would meet Woolwich’s own mutual aid needs. “The department’s revenue has been increasing each year primarily from the increase in the number of transports,” Demers said. He and Carlton’s revenue projections were based on making an average of 250 calls per year. There were 248 emergency medical calls in 2017.

“We’re not attempting to strong arm this,” added Demers. “What we’re putting on the table, is what we think it will cost us if we provide the ambulance service.”

The two encouraged the board to seek proposals from Bath Ambulance Service and North East Mobile Health.

“What happens if our ambulance is tied up and you get a second call,”  asked Select board Chairman David King Sr.

Carlton responded, if the town decides to go it alone, a second ambulance would eventually need to be either bought or leased. “There are plenty of used vehicles available if the town is interested. We’d be looking for the best vehicle we could find at the best price,” he said.

An issue to be resolved is whether or not the town could charge residents for ambulance services. “We’d want to run that by our town attorney. It might be that we’d need to have an ordinance addressing this that would have to be approved by the townspeople,” said King.

“I know some people are going to ask, why am I having to pay for ambulance service, isn’t it part of my taxes,” Selectman Jason Shaw commented.

Selectmen will revisit the issue at their first meeting in January.