CAMDEN, Maine — Camden First Aid Association will close its doors in July if it loses contracts with four area towns to which it provides emergency medical services.
The decision comes on the heels of a recommendation by a review panel Wednesday that Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville and Hope should contract with North East Mobile Health Services for the next two years for EMS coverage.
Camden First Aid, a nonprofit organization, has provided emergency services to the towns since 1936.
“We will be closing our doors July 1,” Camden First Aid’s EMS Chief Julia Libby said Thursday.
She adding that no further negotiations with the towns will be held. “We’re done talking.”
The association has 10 full-time employees and has been headquartered on John Street in Camden since 2000.
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.
Afterwards, the towns got together to solicit bids. A committee of officials from all towns reviewed the proposals and on Wednesday night said it was recommending North East Mobile, which said it can provide the service for $28,000 a year.
Camden First Aid has been buffeted by financial problems over the past few years. In November, board chairman Steve Corson acknowledged that Camden First Aid was “teetering on the edge of bankruptcy” two years ago.
A new board and donations helped them get through that fiscal crisis, but serious cash flow problems remained, Corson said in November. He asked residents and business owners in the towns for donations.
Interim Rockport Town Manager Roger Moody said he believes there is a 30-day notice requirement clause in the contract with Camden First Aid if they are to stop providing service.
North East Mobile of Scarborough is prepared to begin service within one month if necessary but had sought a longer period for the transition.
Moody said if Camden First Aid does close, he expects the towns would work out something with North East Mobile.
Camden Selectboard Chairman Martin Cates said despite the committee recommending North East, all members were in agreement that Camden First Aid has provided consistent high-quality care for the towns over the years.
The decision on which EMS provider will be selected will be left to the select boards in each of the four towns, although voters will decide the amount of money for EMS coverage at the annual town meetings in June.
Veteran Camden Selectboard member John French said that the towns have received a free ride from Camden First Aid over the years and the organization probably should have increased its fees to the towns. But, he added, that in the end, cost is the deciding factor.
The select boards plan to hold public input sessions over the next two weeks. The annual town meetings for Camden and Rockport will be held June 12. Lincolnville’s annual town meeting will be June 15 and Hope on June 17.
Moody said while the contracts are signed by the select boards, the voters hold the purse strings. “There may be sentiment to stay with Camden First Aid because of the long history and reliability, a certain comfort level,” Moody said.
He said, however, that the three largest towns — Camden, Rockport and Lincolnville — would need to agree on the same provider for any organization to be able to make a financial go of providing EMS coverage. If they don’t agree on the same provider, the towns will have to start from the beginning.