With its current contract for emergency medical services set to expire in June, the town is faced with a tough choice about how to move forward. (Nathan Strout/The Times Record)

WOOLWICH — Woolwich is facing tough choices over the future of emergency medical services.

The town’s contract with its current emergency medical services provider, North East Mobile Health Services, expires at the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Since 2004, the town has paid next to nothing for primary ambulance service from the Topsham-based company. But as the town looked into renewing its contract with North East, it was informed that it would be expected to pay at least $75,000 for continued service. Then on Tuesday, North East told town officials they had no interest in providing primary ambulance service for Woolwich at all.

The relationship between Woolwich and North East was already tenuous. North East was only available to respond to about 50-60 percent of calls, with Woolwich volunteers picking up the rest.

“That’s just not acceptable to me,” said EMS Director Brian Carlton at a meeting about the town’s situation on Tuesday.

Due to the company’s location in Topsham, response times were slower than Carlton would like. Even when North East could respond, it would take more than 15 minutes to reach the town line.

Woolwich has beefed up its emergency medical services response in recent years. Woolwich provides secondary emergency medical services and is responsible for responding to calls when North East cannot. With 14 volunteers, Woolwich EMS has been able to respond to 95 percent of calls so far in the current fiscal year. The town currently budgets $48,500 for its own emergency medical services.

At a meeting on Tuesday, about 50 people, including EMS personnel, came to discuss the town’s dilemma. Carlton presented a variety of emergency medical services alternatives, which ranged from Woolwich volunteers picking up the extra work to contracting out primary ambulance services to Bath.

The first option Carlton laid out would see the town hiring paramedics to provide one person coverage out of the town office for 12 hours per day, Monday through Friday. Volunteers would cover evenings and weekends. The estimated total cost of that option would be $148,890.

The second option would also see Woolwich providing primary emergency medical services, though in this scenario it would be an all-volunteer effort. Using the town’s 14 emergency medical personnel, the town would provide 24/7 coverage year round with at least two people on call at all times. Responders would be on call at their homes and would receive a flat rate for their efforts. The costs associated with that plan would be $146,890.

Carlton said that when he ran that plan by current personnel, he was able to fill out a schedule for a month without issue.

A third option would see no change in coverage except that the contract with North East would be discontinued at the end of June. Under this plan, Woolwich emergency personnel would continue responding to incidents as before. As they are currently responding to 95 percent of calls, Carlton noted that they would be able to respond to the vast majority of calls. This would be the cheapest option, at $90,890.

According to Carlton, the town could help offset those costs by charging for ambulance rides. He estimated that with an average of 240 calls per fiscal year and an industry standard of about $300 per call, the town could bring in about $72,000 in revenue by providing ambulance services.

Bath would provide secondary service under all three of those options.

Further complicating matters is the town’s 15-year-old ambulance. The vehicle is often in need of repairs, and as of Tuesday, the town was borrowing an ambulance from Georgetown in order to respond to emergencies. Carlton noted that the town had put $13,000 into repairing the vehicle in just the last three years. That situation is untenable, especially if Woolwich were to step up as the primary emergency medical services provider in the town.

According to Carlton, if the town wants to take up that role, they will need to allocate up to $150,000 to purchase a new ambulance that will be reliable.

A fourth option would be to contract with Bath for emergency medical services. Bath already provides those services to both West Bath and Arrowsic. Bath would charge $395 per call and Woolwich would be responsible for covering bills that were ultimately unable to be collected. That would come out to $94,800 plus uncollectables, which Selectmen Chair David King noted was difficult to estimate. Under that plan, Woolwich EMS would provide secondary service just as they’ve provided secondary service under their current agreement with North East.

Woolwich voters will be asked at the annual town meeting in March to choose how the town should move forward in ensuring that residents have adequate emergency medical services. The town will schedule another meeting to discuss the available options closer to that meeting.

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