The group that oversees rescue training throughout southern Maine has shed its staff and reorganized as it tries to win back the state’s confidence.

Southern Maine EMS failed to win renewal of its state contract at the end of June, when the Maine Emergency Medical Services board identified shortcomings in training oversight. It cited instructors whose certification was not current and a failure to cover required topics in a course, said Jay Bradshaw, director of Maine Emergency Medical Services, part of the state Department of Public Safety.

“We would find class rosters that had not been properly completed, mistakes that should not have been made in scoring of tests or the conduct of classes,” Bradshaw said.

“We found several classes where Southern Maine EMS had approved classes that did not have a certified instructor coordinator,” he said. “We then had to go back and evaluate what was taught, how students did on the test and review those classes before licensing students.”

In some cases, instructors had to hold additional classes, he said.

The Southern Maine EMS board responded by seeking the resignation of its executive director and laying off its education coordinator and quality assurance coordinator. A receptionist and an office manager had already given notice of their plans to leave.

The group then developed a reorganization plan aimed at improving oversight and communication, while having board members cover staff duties. The group also will be hiring a new executive director.

“My goal is to be able to have the best system possible for my patients, and for my people to be able to do the same thing,” said Brent Libby, Standish’s fire chief, an instructor and president of the Southern Maine EMS board of directors, which he joined a year ago.

Southern Maine EMS is run by a volunteer board made up mostly of public safety officials, doctors and nurses. It does not provide medical care, but oversees certification for emergency medical technicians and paramedics, as well as the continuing-education classes that all rescue workers need for recertification every three years.

The Maine Emergency Medical Services board decided this week that the reorganization and improvement plan developed by the Southern Maine EMS board meets state standards and should be approved. The new contract, which lasts until June, includes mandatory benchmarks and reporting requirements.

The state contract is worth roughly $58,000 to Southern Maine EMS. It also authorizes the organization to collect assessments from municipal and private rescue services and hospitals in the region. The agency, which also offers certification courses, had a fiscal year 2010 budget of $500,000.

A total of four regional training oversight entities cover the state. The southern Maine district is the busiest, with the most certified personnel. It is the only one that has had performance problems, Bradshaw said. The problems have existed for years.

Freeport’s fire and rescue deputy chief, Paul Conley, said the only time they affected his crew was two years ago, when a course instructor’s certification had lapsed. It was an inconvenience for students, who had to retake some of the classes, but was more of a technical problem and did not reflect the instructor’s knowledge or ability.

As important as the training oversight is, Conley said the regional centers are an important conduit for timely information about public health issues.

The issue for Southern Maine EMS came to a head in June, when the state refused to pay the final $10,000 installment of its contract until Southern Maine EMS improved its operation.

Donnell Carroll, who was executive director of Southern Maine EMS from 1995 until his resignation last month, was grilled on the performance issues by members of the board. Carroll could not be reached for this story.

The organization’s finances also were in disarray, according to minutes from the board of directors meetings, with almost $4,000 withdrawn in one month without explanation. The minutes say rent and workers’ compensation payments were not current and the organization had outstanding bills of $10,800.

Libby conceded that there have been financial difficulties, but the board has not determined whether there were any improprieties. Annual audits have not turned up problems, but the board is hiring a new accountant to examine the financial records, to determine how money was spent and to identify possible savings.

Any evidence of wrongdoing would be reported to authorities, Libby said.

Bradshaw said the state board has confined its review to the performance, not the finances, of Southern Maine EMS.

He said the state board was reassured that emergency medical services are of high quality in York and Cumberland counties. Even though Southern EMS doesn’t have enough staff to review reports to make sure patients are getting high-level care, those reviews are routinely done at the hospitals that receive the patients.

Gorham Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre, a member of the board, said approved classes are being held now and others are scheduled this fall. “I think the state is happy with where the organization is going,” he said.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]