CALAIS, Maine — Three ambulances are sitting at a dealership in Bangor just waiting for the city to come up with the more than $400,000 needed to take them home.
Calais City Manager Diane Barnes on Monday was in the process of making that purchase a reality. She has solicited bids from banks for loans to buy the two new and one used ambulance. The bids are due into the city on March 25 “so that the council can award the [contracts] on March 26th,” she said Monday.
The city manager also is setting up a separate account in the city for the new ambulance service. “The revenue coming in from the ambulance … is what is going to fund the expenses,” she said. Property taxes are not paying for a new ambulance service, she added.
A public notice of the new ambulance service will be published in local newspapers this week. “This is the first step for the Maine [Emergency Management Service] license,” she said. “This is to let everybody know that we are starting our ambulance service and what our coverage area is.”
Once the notice is published, there is a 30-day comment period, and Maine EMS then has the option of granting the city a license.
Armed with a state license, the city can then apply for its Medicare and Medicaid billing numbers.
Barnes is investigating whether the city can begin its ambulance service without those billing numbers.
“The answer I am trying to find out right now is if we can back bill,” she said. “That is how it was set up before when Downeast EMS went into business.”
While the city is wading through the regulatory process, it also is advertising for six emergency personnel. The application deadline is Friday for paramedics, EMTs, including intermediate EMTs and below. So far, 20 people have applied. Interviews will be held in April.
“We are looking to start with three paramedics,” Barnes said.
The city expects to be in the ambulance business by July 1. On that date a call to 911 will get a city-operated ambulance.
Councilors in February voted to leave the Washington County Emergency Medical Services Authority, a quasi-municipal entity that oversees Downeast EMS ambulance operations for more than 15 service communities, from Eastport to Danforth and Lubec to Wesley.
Calais soon will be in competition with the WCEMSA, as the city is offering service to neighboring towns served by Downeast EMS. Letters have been sent to Perry, Meddybemps, Robbinston, Baring, Baileyville, Alexander, Crawford, Cooper, Wesley, Charlotte, Danforth and Vanceboro.
Barnes believes the city can provide cheaper ambulance service than Downeast EMS. She has studied the numbers and based her cost on one-third each of a town’s valuation, population and incidence response while Downeast EMS charges towns a straight per capita cost.
“If they want to have coverage [from Calais on] July 1, they would have to let me know 60 days in advance because we would have to amend our EMS license to include them,” she said. Lubec and Eastport have said they would use Downeast EMS by themselves if other communities decide to use Calais’ service.
Some communities have asked Barnes to include them in the city’s public notice even when a town has not yet decided which ambulance service it plans to align itself with.
If Downeast EMS goes out of business as a regional ambulance service, the city plans to look to Machias, Pleasant Point, Indian Township and Capital ambulance in Bangor for backup coverage in the event that the Calais ambulances are out on calls.