The incoming Mills administration says it will review a contract to outsource Maine’s public health emergency preparedness to a North Carolina company.

When Janet Mills assumes office in January, her administration will review the contract and determine whether the current Maine-based system should remain, or whether the work should go to an out-of-state firm chosen by the departing administration of Gov. Paul LePage.

Concerns about moving the operation out of state were raised by the Maine Hospital Association and the director of the group that currently oversees the system in southern Maine, who argued that switching systems was dangerous and unnecessary. The group coordinates and trains health care personnel to respond in the event of emergencies, such as natural disasters or mass injuries from a catastrophic accident.

Scott Ogden, Mills’ spokesman, said the $700,000 contract with All Clear Emergency Management Group is on the list of issues to be examined. Currently, All Clear is slated to take over in January.

“The health, safety and welfare of Maine people should be the primary consideration in the awarding of such contracts,” Ogden said. “Once in office, Governor-elect Mills will review the contract to evaluate whether or not it properly achieves this goal.”

Paul Weiss, director of the Southern Maine Regional Resource Center for Healthcare, one of three hospital-based resource centers in Maine that coordinates emergency preparedness, criticized the LePage administration earlier this week for attempting to overhaul a system that had been working well for 13 years. Weiss works out of Maine Medical Center in Portland, and the other two regional centers are at hospitals in Bangor and Lewiston.

The LePage administration chose All Clear Emergency Management Group of North Carolina this fall, from among two bidders, to provide statewide services. A contract has yet to be signed, but the LePage administration is working with All Clear on the details of the contract, company and state officials confirmed.

However, Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, which represents physicians before the Legislature, said even if a contract is signed, in almost all cases there are “out” clauses so that during a transition a new administration will have the leeway to enter into contracts it deems are the best fit for its administration.

REGIONAL CENTERS ‘SHUT OUT’

The emergency preparedness system connects health facilities – such as hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care centers and rehabilitation facilities – with one another during emergencies such as windstorms, snowstorms, thunderstorms, flooding, infectious disease outbreaks or large accidents such as a school bus rollovers.

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.

Weiss, a MaineHealth employee, declined to comment Friday when reached by the Press Herald, but earlier this week he said that the regional centers were “completely shut out” of the state’s decision to move out of the hospitals and instead do the work at Maine Department of Health and Human Services offices.

Weiss said so many working conditions were changed when the contract went out to bid in August that the current regional resource centers did not submit bids.

Emily Spencer, Maine DHHS spokeswoman, said in an email response to questions that the department uses a process that gives contractors a fair chance to bid on the service, and the current coordinators chose not to bid.

“All Clear Emergency Management is well-qualified to offer these emergency management services, having years of experience in this field and providing similar services in a number of other states,” Spencer said.

TRANSITION PLAN QUESTIONED

Spencer said the department is now working on finalizing a contract with All Clear and developing a transition plan.

“These negotiations include the development of a comprehensive transition plan to hire and recruit Maine residents to lead the transition and oversight of this important work,” Spencer said.

“The department has invested significant resources in our regional health care coalitions, resulting in strong, self-sustaining coalitions that are not dependent on a specific person or entity. Once finalized, this transition will build on the strength of these coalitions to best meet our state’s public health emergency needs. Any insinuation that this transition will result in a disruption of services is unfounded.”

Weiss has said from what he’s seen that there is not a good transition plan in place, and he’s concerned that the state will be vulnerable to emergencies in early 2019 if All Clear gets the contract and transition issues aren’t smoothed out.

All Clear officials declined to comment earlier this week, noting that negotiations with Maine were continuing.

Jeff Austin, vice president of government affairs for the Maine Hospital Association, earlier this week questioned why the state was making such substantial changes to the system without first convening a “working group” to discuss whether such changes should occur.

John Porter, MaineHealth spokesman, said Friday that the hospital network that includes Maine Med is looking forward to more conversations about the change, with both the incoming Mills administration and the outgoing LePage administration.

“We want to know more about this, and we want to work with the Maine CDC to create the most effective system,” Porter said.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: joelawlorph

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