HALLOWELL — The city may end its longstanding contract for emergency medical services with the Augusta Fire Department.

Hallowell City Manager Michael Starn said he’s looking for savings anywhere he can in the budget, and the city may be able to save about $26,000 by switching to Delta Ambulance for emergency medical care and ambulance transport.

Hallowell pays Augusta a service fee of $9 per resident, totaling $22,463, and reimburses Augusta for ambulance transport charges that are not paid by Hallowell residents or their insurers, which Starn said is usually about $4,000.

Delta Ambulance has said it would not charge Hallowell anything for providing EMS. Only residents or their insurers would have to pay.

Augusta Fire Department has provided EMS for Hallowell since 1975. Starn began exploring alternatives and asked Delta for a proposal after reading news reports about Richmond choosing to contract with North East Mobile Health Services rather than Gardiner.

Initially, Gardiner officials told Richmond they may not continue to provide mutual aid at fire scenes if Richmond hires a private service. Two weeks later, Gardiner officials backed off the initial threat and said they merely were expressing concerns about the loss of revenue.

In Hallowell’s case, Starn said he needs to keep costs down.

“We are really just still in the exploring-our-options phase,” Starn said. “That said, our councilors that are responsible for making a recommendation on the budget said that’s a fairly significant budget item.”

Starn said Hallowell officials are satisfied with Augusta’s service.

Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo said Starn has asked whether Augusta would waive the service fee for Hallowell, and Bridgeo plans to bring the question to the Augusta City Council at its June 13 informational meeting. Augusta charges the same per-capita fee to Chelsea for EMS.

Augusta Fire Department personnel responded to 322 EMS calls in Hallowell in 2012, out of about 4,500 for the department in total. 

In addition to the service fee and reimbursement for uncollected bills, Augusta received about $75,000 in revenue from billing insurers for services provided to Hallowell residents last year.

Augusta’s general fund would take a hit of about $100,000 from the loss of the Hallowell EMS contract, and Bridgeo said the city probably would not be able to reduce Fire Department staffing to make up for the loss.

The Augusta Fire Department has a budget of about $4 million and brings in about $1 million in billings, Bridgeo said, with nearly all of the rest of the cost being paid by Augusta taxpayers.

Starn said he contacted Delta Ambulance because it has a base on Cony Road in Augusta, about two miles farther from Hallowell than Augusta’s Hartford Fire Station. He may also seek information from other private companies or Gardiner.

Delta Ambulance’s website says the company provides subsidy-free emergency services to 17 central Maine communities.

Starn said he’s trying to determine the level of service that Delta or another entity would provide and compare it to what Augusta offers. Factors will include response times and the number and qualifications of people staffing the ambulances.

A sample agreement that Delta provided to Hallowell says municipalities will be responsible for water rescues, accident extrication and assistance transporting bariatric patients, all of which are done by Augusta Fire Department. 

Starn said some of those services could be provided through Hallowell’s mutual-aid agreements with other communities. For example, he believes Farmingdale may have extrication equipment.

If Hallowell were to end its EMS agreement with Augusta, Bridgeo said, Augusta should still be able to provide mutual aid for fighting fires; but he still needs to investigate that and the implications for emergency medical dispatching, which Augusta also provides for Hallowell. Bridgeo said Augusta’s dispatchers are trained to provide guidance and work with first responders over the phone.

Bridgeo said severing the EMS relationship could be complicated because of the extent of the connections between the two cities’ public safety services.

“From my perspective, if the city of Hallowell decides to discontinue the relationship, then we will work to do that in a way that is the least disruptive to any of the parties and respects Hallowell’s right to make these choices,” Bridgeo said.

Hallowell’s EMS contract with Augusta requires only 30 days’ notice of termination, but Starn said he will try to give Augusta as much notice as possible if the Hallowell City Council decides to end it.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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