The director of emergency preparedness for southern Maine health facilities is trying to stop the state from finalizing a $700,000 contract awarded to an out-of-state firm to do the same work he and his Maine-based counterparts have been doing for 13 years.

Paul Weiss, director of the Southern Maine Regional Resource Center for Healthcare, wants the Maine Attorney General’s Office to halt the outsourcing of the contract to a North Carolina firm and consider continuing with the Maine-based system when Gov.-elect Janet Mills takes office.

The new contract would begin in January, when the Mills administration takes over from outgoing Gov. Paul LePage. A spokesman for Mills didn’t have an immediate response to questions about the contract, but the Maine Hospital Association also questioned the LePage administration’s decision to abruptly change how the emergency preparedness system operates under the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We don’t know why the CDC made the decision to change the preparedness funding that has been in place for over a decade,” said Jeff Austin, vice president of government affairs for the Maine Hospital Association. “To my knowledge, there was no work group or other stakeholder process to review the current system and discuss alternatives.”

The emergency preparedness system connects health facilities – such as hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care centers and rehabilitation facilities – with one another during emergencies that include windstorms, flooding, severe snowstorms, thunderstorms, infectious disease outbreaks or large accidents such as a passenger train derailment. The system devises plans and trains personnel for emergencies that would affect health facilities, such as a nursing home having to evacuate residents after losing power.

“We have an efficient system when there’s a disaster, so that we don’t send, for instance, dementia patients to gymnasiums,” said Weiss. In the October 2017 windstorm, the regional resource center helped coordinate evacuation of patients from The Newton Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Sanford when it lost power, Weiss said.

The resource center also owns emergency trailers that can be transported to sites of mass injuries, such as a bus rollover or a mass shooting.

‘REBUILD IT FROM SCRATCH’

Weiss, a MaineHealth employee, said the system is working well and there is no need to outsource it to an out-of-state company.

“We are having to disassemble this system we have worked on for 13 years and they are going to have to rebuild it from scratch,” Weiss said.

He said operators of the current system – three regional centers at hospitals in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor – have been “completely shut out” of the state’s decision to move away from a hospital-based system in favor of an out-of-state company. All Clear Emergency Management Group of Raleigh, North Carolina, was awarded the $700,000 contract this fall.

It doesn’t appear that outsourcing will save any money, as Weiss said the combined current system costs about $600,000 in federal money that’s administered by the state.

Austin, of the hospital association, said it has “not heard of any problems with the current emergency preparedness system.”

John Porter, spokesman for MaineHealth, parent company of Maine Medical Center, said in a statement that Maine Med “continues to have questions about how these services will be provided under this new arrangement. As such, we plan to continue a dialogue with the Maine CDC to better understand their proposal, and we will work with the department in the months ahead to assure an optimal approach to this important public service.”

NO TRANSITION PLAN

Weiss said there’s no transition plan, and that would put people in danger if there were an emergency, say a severe snowstorm, in early January.

“This is dangerous and reckless,” Weiss said.

Maine CDC and Department of Health and Human Services officials did not respond to questions Wednesday.

Ginny Schwartzer, CEO of All Clear Emergency Management, said she couldn’t comment on what’s happening in Maine as “we are still in contract negotiations with the state of Maine.” Schwartzer said the group provides similar services in Colorado, Kansas and Ohio, and does contract work in 20 states.

Weiss said he has sent letters to the Maine Attorney General’s Office requesting the contract be halted to avoid a disruption in emergency services. He said he hopes the Mills administration will reopen contract negotiations with the three regional health preparedness centers and continue existing services.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Weiss, who is not an attorney, questioned whether it is legal under Maine law to outsource the work. He said there’s no money for an attorney in his budget, but he is seeking legal advice on the matter.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: joelawlorph


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