CAMDEN, Maine — The independent non-profit group that provides ambulance service to 11,000 residents in Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville and Hope is in the midst of its own emergency.
Board chairman Steve Corson wrote in a letter to the Bangor Daily News that Camden First Aid Association was “teetering on the edge of bankruptcy” two years ago.
A new board and donations helped the organization get through that fiscal crisis, but serious cash flow problems remain, Corson said Wednesday. He now is asking residents and business owners in the four towns Camden First Aid serves to make donations to the service.
The organization gets annual funding from the towns, but collectively those funds account for just 6.7 percent of annual operating costs. Camden provides $20,000, Rockport $24,000, Lincolnville $10,000 and Hope, $2,000. The organization serves just half of Hope, Corson said.
Camden First Aid’s board has met with the town managers and administrators of the four municipalities, arguing that they should provide more funding.
“We’re working on that,” Corson said. The argument is persuasive, he said, “when you look at what other towns pay to run their own ambulances.”
Thomaston budgets $170,000 annually for its ambulance service, and Warren budgets $126,000, he said. Corson estimates that most towns spend between $120,000 and $150,000 to operate their own service.
As is the case with much of health care, Camden First Aid is paid less than it costs to provide service. In the letter, Corson noted the service might bill Medicare $500 for an ambulance call but receive just $300 from the program. And 60 percent of the service’s calls are for Medicare patients.
“MaineCare runs only pay 50 percent of what we bill,” Corson wrote, “and direct billing to the patient can sometimes be a collection issue.” Patients with private insurance result in full payment, he wrote, but those make up just 18 percent of calls.
“If we got all the money we billed for, we’d be OK,” he said Wednesday.
The cost of operating the service is steep. Because staff are available 24 hours a day, the weekly payroll is $10,000. The service also hasn’t been able to set aside money for the regular replacement of its four ambulances during the cash-flow squeeze.
Corson said if every resident served by Camden First Aid sent in a $20 donation, the crisis could be eased. The board also plans to seek donations from businesses.
Donations can be sent to: Camden First Aid Association, attention Julia Libby, service chief, at P.O. Box 368, Camden, ME 04843.