Someone asked me how I managed to sit through all those “boring meetings.” In a past life I may have wondered that, too.
But since I’ve been doing this job I have found myself caught up in the narrative of hyper-local government that unfolds before me every week in the town offices of Bremen, Jefferson, Nobleboro, Somerville, or Waldoboro.
As I try my best to pick out the most relevant bits of information to share from discussions of plowing and sanding contracts, road paving plans, infrastructure needs, complaints between neighbors, traffic concerns, and code violations, I often find myself on the literal edge of my seat listening intently, waiting to hear the nugget of information that is the story.
Sometimes though that story is laid out before me like a body on a dissecting table. I can see clearly the real-life consequences, not just to the residents of the town, but on a grander scale to people across the country and on a smaller scale to me, personally.
I covered a recent selectmen’s meeting in Waldoboro that sent chills down my spine.
During a report to the board on staffing issues, Waldoboro Emergency Medical Services Director Richard Lash sketched a picture of an imminent future when his department, already shorthanded, may lose staff as a result of Gov. Janet Mills’ vaccine mandate.
But as he made clear, that’s only one piece of the larger problem.
COVID-19 has already stymied EMS recruiting efforts by impeding opportunities to introduce kids in high school to career prospects in emergency medicine. Low salaries have caused trained staff in some departments to leave their critical positions for higher paying unskilled jobs. Neighboring departments occasionally hire staff away from each other to fill their own bare minimum roster of workers.
A system of part-time employment has led to a patchwork of scheduling that can leave coverage gaps at crucial times. Mutual aid, a necessary program within our connected towns, has the potential to leave a town uncovered when its staff and ambulance are helping elsewhere. And dedicated staff members, pushed to their physical and mental limits, are beginning to suffer the symptoms of burnout.
“It’s unsustainable,” said Assistant Director of Waldoboro EMS Derek Booker in the meeting.
As I sat there listening, I couldn’t help but picture what might happen – to me – personally – if in the future I have to place a call for help.
Will there be any one to answer it in time? Will there be any one to answer it at all?
In many parts of the country, questions like these may feel theoretical. But here in Lincoln County where every dollar has an important job to do, and where larger issues more often have direct and immediate consequences, they don’t feel so theoretical to me anymore.
(“After Deadline” provides The Lincoln County News reporters a space to reflect on the community they cover.)