By Abigail W. Adams
Wiscasset EMS supporters smile after hearing the bids for ambulance services at the Wiscasset selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, May 5. (Abigail Adams photo)
Wiscasset selectmen placed ambulance services out to bid to answer a question Chair Pam Dunning said is asked every budget season – would ambulances services in Wiscasset be cheaper if contracted through a private company? The answer came at the selectmen’s meeting May 5.
Wiscasset Emergency Medical Services personnel and supporters turned out in force to hear it.
Two companies responded to Wiscasset’s bid request – Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service Inc., of Damariscotta, and North East Mobile Health Services, of Scarborough.
Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service Inc. sent a four-paragraph letter to selectmen expressing interest in providing coverage and support for emergency medical services in Wiscasset. “At this time we would propose a joint effort with the existing system, up to and including a merger of the two systems, and or starting with a management agreement,” the letter stated.
The letter requested an extension to enable a joint meeting with selectmen to get a better idea of the cost savings goals for the budget and logistics of the project.
North East Mobile Health Services sent a 19-page proposal to selectmen with an additional thumb drive detailing the emergency medical services the company would provide for Wiscasset, Alna, Edgecomb, and Westport Island. Snickering and moaning was heard in the audience when selectmen read the details of the proposal.
North East Mobile Health Services outlined four different staffing proposals with prices that ranged from $178,000 to $403,000. The $403,000 option would provide one paramedic/emergency medical technician ambulance located at Wiscasset EMS’ current station and one on-call unit to be used as secondary response.
The option would purchase one of the Wiscasset ambulances at an agreed-upon price and rent the Wiscasset EMS station.
The second option, for $343,000, would provide one paramedic/EMT ambulance stationed in Wiscasset and one backup unit. It called for Wiscasset EMS to sell North East Mobile Health Services the better of their two ambulances for $1 and provide them use of their station rent-free.
The third option, for $238,000, would provide one paramedic unit, minus EMTs, stationed in Wiscasset with three on-call EMTs to make up the primary crew and serve as backup.
One of Wiscasset’s ambulances would be purchased at a mutually agreed-upon price and the company would rent Wiscasset EMS’s station.
The fourth option, for $178,000, would provide one paramedic unit stationed in Wiscasset and three on-call EMTs to serve on the primary team and for backup. The company would purchase one of Wiscasset EMS’s ambulances for $1 and the current station would be used rent-free.
Four audience members spoke after the bid was read in support of Wiscasset Emergency Medical Services, including Edgecomb Fire Chief Roy Potter. Tanya Bailey, an EMT in Wiscasset and in Woolwich, where North East Mobile Heath Services has a contract, said she had waited over 45 minutes in Woolwich with a patient before North East Mobile Health Services arrived for transport.
John Blagdon, a former member of Wiscasset EMS for 35 years, said the question of providing EMS services through a private company should not have been asked. Chair Pam Dunning disagreed, citing the number of people that have said for years the town could save money and even make a profit on ambulance services.
Wiscasset EMS, or Wiscasset Ambulance Service, was founded in 1976 and has 24 members on its roster, including seven paramedics, four advanced EMTs, 12 basic EMTs, and one CPR-certified driver, according to Wiscasset’s website.
The Wiscasset EMS budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year is $286,288, not including a requested appropriation of $25,000 from Wiscasset’s capital reserve account.
Wiscasset EMS is projecting to generate $232,000 in revenue for the town in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
Selectman Ben Rines said he agreed to ask the question about the cost of ambulance services. Now that selectmen had the answer, Rines said, he recommended a no vote on the non-binding question to discontinue Wiscasset EMS in favor of a private company on Wiscasset’s town meeting warrant.
“Motion” was called out from the audience, but selectmen took no official action on the ambulance service bids. In her report at the meeting, Town Manager Marian Anderson thanked Wiscasset EMS Director Roland Abbott for working with selectmen through the difficult conversation.
“Roland worked with us even though it put what he worked for at risk,” Anderson said. “I want to sincerely thank him.”