Woolwich hears ambulance service options

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 7:45am

Woolwich residents will choose between expanding their EMS department or possibly contracting with Bath Fire and Rescue for 24/7 ambulance services. Fewer than 40 residents turned out Tuesday night to hear four options at an informational meeting at Woolwich Central School.

“Just today the city of Bath gave us their proposal,” Fire Chief Mike Demers said. It includes two options: One would provide 24/7 coverage at an estimated annual cost of $99,145, based on the “estimated per call contract price and ... therefore dependent on the Woolwich call volume," the proposal states. The second option, if Woolwich chooses to expand its own ambulance services, is to hire Bath Fire & Rescue as a back-up at $395 per call.

EMS Director Brian Carlton said both Bath options require Woolwich to assume responsiblity for all uncollectables. “When a patient or insurance company does not, or is unwilling to pay for ambulance service, the town would be responsible for collecting these,” he explained.

Contracting with Bath would avoid having to buy a second ambulance Demers and Carlton said is necessary if the town wants to offer its own 24/7 coverage. They noted the town’s current ambulance, a used Ford Trauma Hawk, is undergoing major repairs to its engine. The department is temporarily relying on an ambulance on loan from Georgetown. They estimated the cost of a new ambulance at about $150,000 which could be financed over a number of years.

Carlton said North East Mobile Health, the town’s current EMS provider, was no longer interested in contracting with the town as its primary ambulance provider, but would provide secondary ambulance service at $200 per call. The town’s contract with the Brunswick-based ambulance service expires in June. “Going with (North East Mobile Health) would mean a 15-minute response time and if they didn’t have an ambulance to dispatch we’d still need to call Bath for backup,” added Carlton.

Selectmen's Chairman David King said after weighing the options, he felt the best course of action would be for the town to go on its own, expand its EMS department and buy a new ambulance. “It’s not what the select board thinks is best, it’s what the townspeople want, they foot the bill. All we’re doing is presenting the options. Our focus through this whole process has been on providing the best ambulance service we can in the most fiscally responsible way possible,” said King.

Carlton said this option would mean having two EMS personnel living within a certain distance of the station on call 24/7. Ambulance members on call would be paid a stipend of $35 to $50, per 12-hour shift with the responding crew paid hourly. The cost including payroll, stipends, administration and other fees is estimated at $144,640; projected revenues from transports are estimated at $72,000 – for a net cost of $72,640.

Following the meeting, Selectman Dale Chadbourne said he too supported the town operating its own ambulance service. “This is one of the biggest decisions the town has ever had to make but it seems to me, this is the best route to take.” Like King, Chadbourne said he’d support any ambulance option the townspeople chose.

A second meeting to discuss the proposals will be held closer to the May annual town meeting when voters will pick among the options. This past year, voters raised $48,500 for EMS including staffing and stipends. Carlton said, in 2018 Woolwich EMS had 229 ambulance calls and responded to all but 12. Thirty-eight were for transports, he added.