CAMDEN/ROCKPORT, Maine — A decision to switch emergency medical services for four midcoast towns away from a company that has provided the care for 77 years is all but final.
Residents in Camden and Rockport at their separate town meetings Wednesday night voted to include money in their municipalities’ 2013-14 budgets at the level sought by North East Mobile Health Services rather than the greater amount needed by longtime provider Camden First Aid Association.
North East will have to scramble, however, because it had requested a four-month transition period to succeed Camden First Aid. Camden First Aid EMS Chief Julia Libby said Wednesday evening after the Camden town meeting vote that she plans on shutting down the nonprofit organization at the end of the day June 30.
Libby said that final decision rests with the association’s board but she expects the board members will support her recommendation.
Camden First Aid has provided emergency medical care to the Camden area since it formed in Camden in 1936
When it closes, its assets, including four ambulances, will go to Camden National Bank, which holds the mortgage on its headquarters.
The organization’s expected loss of the contract follows its request in February for a dramatic increase in subsidies. It proposed increasing fees from the four towns from $57,000 in the current year to $407,000 in each of the next two years.
At the Camden town meeting held at the Camden Opera House, residents voted 55-16 to include enough in the annual town budget to cover the $10,000 annual subsidy for North East as well as $50,000 to pay for a smooth transition from Camden First Aid. Whether that transition will occur, however, is uncertain if Camden First Aid closes in a little more than two weeks.
There was no debate on the matter at the Camden meeting.
There was discussion at the neighboring Rockport town meeting at the Rockport Opera House.
Residents there also approved a budget that would cover the request by North East. North East proposed $12,000 from Rockport, while Camden First Aid sought $129,000. A show of hands at the end of the meeting showed 25 people in favor of switching to the lower-cost proposal from North East and seven in support of staying with Camden First Aid despite the much higher costs.
Rockport resident Marieta Wheaton said that residents should be aware that North East is a private, profit-making company and that it will bill people for services even if they don’t have insurance. She said Camden First Aid has gone above and beyond the services it needed to provide.
Rockport Select Board member Geoffrey Parker, who served on the EMS review committee, acknowledged that North East has been able to make a go of it financially because it is aggressive in going after money it is owed. He said in the end, however, people will see little difference in service. Parker said North East has reached out to current employees of Camden First Aid about coming over to North East.
“It’s likely if we go with North East, it will be the same people in different-colored trucks responding to your calls,” Parker said.
A committee consisting of town officials from Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville and Hope reviewed proposals and recommended North East but said that for the move to be financially feasible for that company it would need Camden and Rockport at a minimum to go along with the proposal and preferably three of the communities.
Lincolnville will hold its town meeting on Saturday and Hope on Monday.
With the two town meeting votes, the next step would be for the select boards of those communities to sign a contract with North East.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Hope's town meeting would be Sunday. It will be Monday.