BANGOR, Maine — Bangor residents and businesses who call for emergency aid when there is no emergency now face a fee if they do it too often.
During a meeting Monday night, city councilors approved a new fee structure to be levied when people or institutions make excessive calls for unnecessary aid.
“The idea is to discourage the abuse of the system, not discourage use of the system,” City Manager Cathy Conlow said during the meeting.
Bangor Fire Chief Thomas Higgins has said the city’s EMS crews have been dispatched for something as mundane as an out-of-reach TV remote control.
Last year, one individual called EMS 171 times in a single year. That person since has entered an assisted living arrangement, with the city’s assistance.
The hope is that others in similar situations who frequently need help can find a more suitable living arrangement. EMS crews should not be used as home health care agencies, Conlow added.
Individuals who call three or fewer times for a nonemergency in a one-year span won’t be charged any fee. Calling four to eight times in a year leads to a $25 fee for each firetruck, ambulance or other emergency vehicle that deals with the call. Nine or more requests in a year will result in a fee of $125 per vehicle.
For businesses, the fee structures are more strict. The first three nonemergency calls would result in a $25 fee for each vehicle. The fourth call and beyond would net $125 fees for each vehicle.
EMS visits that result in a person being taken to a hospital for medical reasons are counted as an emergency and do not count toward that individual’s total.
Some assisted living facilities have “no lift” policies, which bar employees from picking up people who have fallen or are struggling to move from one spot to another, usually for insurance reasons. That means when someone can’t get up, those institutions call Bangor firefighters for help.
The new fees might serve to change some policies.
Bangor Fire Department has no choice but to respond when called, regardless of whether what’s reported is believed to be an actual emergency. Higgins has said that when emergency responders are tied up with these calls, they aren’t available to deal with more serious incidents. These responses also cost the city money, as it can’t bill for services when a person isn’t taken to the hospital.
Higgins has said the fees are meant to be preventative and aren’t intended to serve as a source of revenue. He said he hopes that the fees never have to be levied against anyone but that they serve to help people find alternatives to frequently calling emergency services for nonemergency needs.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.