MEDDYBEMPS, Maine — Downeast EMS says it will continue to operate even after Calais abandons the regional ambulance service. Calais is leaving July 1.
Each year Calais, as Washington County’s largest city, has generated the most ambulance calls among communities in the regional service. A hospital within the city provides a lucrative transport call base. Calais councilors decided in February that they could operate their own system more cheaply and voted to go it alone.
The board of directors of the Washington County Emergency Medical Services Authority, a quasi-municipal entity that oversees Downeast EMS ambulance, discussed Calais’ departure at its meeting Wednesday night. Right now, WCEMSA is made up of 15 member towns.
Although it looked as though Downeast EMS might not survive soon after Calais announced it was leaving, the directors said they were determined to compete with the new Calais-run ambulance service.
Lubec Selectman Bill Daye, who is the town’s representative to WCEMSA, said that even with Calais’ departure, he was confident Downeast EMS not only would survive, but also thrive. “I would like to keep this [Downeast EMS] basically as is, with the exception of Calais, and we will do everything we can to make that happen,” he said after the authority’s meeting.
It needs to run more efficiently. “My opinion is that this ambulance authority is a business and needs to be run as a business, and if you need to make adjustments to make the business work then you do that and we can do that,” Daye said.
In order to compete, all of the Downeast EMS member towns will have to stick together.
But Calais is going after those member towns. The city recently sent letters to Perry, Meddybemps, Robbinston, Baring, Baileyville, Alexander, Crawford, Cooper, Wesley, Charlotte, Danforth and Vanceboro offering to provide ambulance service for a fee. Calais did not send letters to Eastport or Lubec. Those two towns have said that if Downeast EMS failed, they would go it alone.
Perry Selectman Dennis Turner confirmed after the authority meeting that his town had received Calais’ letter, but had not yet acted on it. He said Calais had offered the town a one-year contract at $7,754; about half the cost of what Downeast EMS has offered.
But is the Calais offer a good deal?
Turner said that, as a member of the authority, if Perry were unhappy with its ambulance service, it could take it to an authority meeting and resolve the issue, including voting on any changes. The Calais offer, he said, had no similar provision.
“It is strictly a contract with calculations based on population of the town, the valuation from the state and the number of incident calls we have,” he said.
Calais City Manager Diane Barnes said Thursday that if a town were unhappy with the service that Calais provided, there was a mechanism built into the contract that would allow the town to opt out at any time.
Turner also questioned whether the price Calais offered would go up next year.
Barnes said there was no way of knowing what next year’s contract would be. “I wouldn’t be able to tell until we went through a full year to see what the new figures are from the state valuation [for the town], and to see how often we respond with the ambulance to [service the town]. It could go either way,” she said.
During the meeting, authority members hired Earl Small to serve as interim manager to replace Danny Carlow, who is heading the Calais ambulance service. Carlow is also the Calais fire chief.
They also talked about their offer to Baileyville to put an ambulance base there. Downeast EMS has been based in the Calais fire station, but now has to move.
Although no one from Baileyville attended the authority’s meeting Wednesday night, town officials did talk about their ambulance service at a budget meeting held earlier in the day in Baileyville.
The Baileyville councilors agreed they would continue with their own ambulance service, but with a few changes.
In the past, Baileyville, supported by a large industrial base, was able to provide ambulance service free of charge to its residents. But the industrial base has dwindled and, faced with the possibility that the town’s last mill might close permanently, on April 1 the town’s ambulance service is changing from free to fee. Recently the town received its Medicare and MaineCare billing numbers.
Although the town plans to keep its own ambulance service, it is willing to talk to Calais and Downeast EMS about backup service. They have received offers from both.
Downeast EMS may have the inside track with Baileyville, however, because it is considering placing an ambulance base there. “They are looking for a barn because they are getting kicked out [of Calais] and we are talking to them,” interim Town Manager Dottie Johnson said. “So we are still in the talking stages for backup.”