June 23, 2018
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Towns, company await next move in ambulance debate

Stephen Betts | BDN
Stephen Betts | BDN
Union Selectmen Lyle Cramer (foreground), Elmer Savage (center) and Appleton Selectmen Chairman Donald Burke listen to a presentation Thursday night, Feb. 23, about ambulance service to their towns.
By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

UNION, Maine — The owner of a private ambulance company said he realized that his proposal to provide emergency medical services to four local towns would generate a lot of emotions from members of the volunteer town ambulance service but that the change would save the communities money and maintain quality care.

Jason Wiley of Sterling Ambulance of Union met Thursday night, Feb. 23 with representatives of the boards of selectmen from Union, Hope and Appleton. No one from the Washington Board of Selectmen attended.

Currently, the Union Ambulance Service responds to emergency calls for the four towns.

Wiley approached the towns, stressing it was unsolicited.

“I drew up this proposal as the next logical step for Sterling Ambulance,” Wiley said.

He noted towns are facing difficult economic times and are trying to save money and that his proposal would realize savings for towns.

“I looked at how to save towns money but not cut services,” Wiley said.

The room at the Thompson Community Center was filled with about 35 people but Wiley began the meeting by stating he would not take questions or comments from the audience. He said he would only take questions from the selectmen.

“I know what kinds of emotions it would evoke,” Wiley said of his proposal.

He also said he was insulted by an accusation from someone at a prior meeting that he had made a low-ball offer in order to get the contract and that he would then raise the price once he was running the service. Wiley noted that he is able to provide a three-year contract with no increases during that period because most of his fixed costs are already in place. He said he would have to buy a third ambulance and add staff to take on the extra calls but otherwise he has the necessary equipment and staff.

Questions from Union selectmen focused on the cost-distribution in the proposal which would be based on the number of calls, not town population.

Union Selectmen Chairman Elmer Savage said that basing it on calls skewed the costs since Union gets more calls because Route 17 runs through the town and calls often come from someone from out of town who happens to be on that main road.

Selectman Lyle Cramer of Union also objected to the formula.

“That’s grossly unfair,” Cramer said of having calls from the long-term retirement complex Seven Tree Manor included in Union’s costs.

Wiley said he was only including the number of emergency calls from Seven Tree Manor and not transport runs. Sterling has a contract with Seven Tree to provide ambulance services, including emergency calls.

Wiley’s figures show that 62 percent of the emergency calls handled by both the Union Ambulance Service and Sterling — 526 out of 843 — come from Union. Washington has the next most calls at 215, followed by 61 from Appleton and 41 from South Hope.

Scot Sabins, the director of the volunteer Union Ambulance Service, said in the 30 years he has been with the Union department it has provided quality service to the four towns.

“We provide excellent public service at minimal costs. We have a great crew,” he noted.

The ambulance service’s budget is $190,000. The service generates revenues by charging for responses.

The Union service has 35 volunteers, he noted.

After the meeting, Wiley said the next step is up to the selectmen.

“Now, it’s in the hands of the selectmen. I pay taxes here, too. I know they’re going up. This is a way to help,” he said.

Cramer said Union will likely wait to see what the other towns will do. He noted if some of the other towns went with Sterling, Union would need to look at ways to spread out its costs, perhaps seeing if it could provide service to another town.

Sterling Ambulance was formed in 2001 and since 2008 has also responded to emergency calls. Last year, the company responded to 368 emergency calls, he noted.

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