A toy ambulance hangs from the rear-view mirror of a Delta Ambulance at the company’s facility in Waterville on Oct. 16, 2019. Delta notified Waterville officials this week that it intends to end their partnership come July 1. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — Delta Ambulance has notified the city that it plans to terminate its partnership with the city July 1 in a move that reflects a fraying relationship between the two.

The deteriorating relationship is due in part to the staffing challenges created for Delta when the city hired away its emergency workers. Delta and the city have responded to calls for two years by jointly staffing ambulances to respond to medical emergencies.

Delta’s decision this week came just a day after the City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to hire a company to evaluate EMS services in the city — a study that Mayor Jay Coelho, some councilors and fire Chief Shawn Esler acknowledged could lead to the city’s decision to end the partnership with Delta and provide ambulance services on its own.

The city on Friday issued a news release about Delta’s decision to terminate, with an attached notification letter from Delta’s executive director, Tim Beals.

Both Beals and City Manager Steve Daly said Friday that the termination of the partnership will not pose a safety issue for residents who are facing a medical emergency.

“What they’re going to see is a Waterville ambulance respond to any and all EMS calls unless our resources are tied up and then they’re going to see another ambulance service respond,” Daly said.


Beals said Delta is happy to back up Waterville as needed after the agreement ends.

“If we develop a call sharing agreement — if they’re busy and they need us to go to the next call, we’re available for that,” Beals said. “We’re not turning our back on the city.”

The City Council on Tuesday discussed the current three-year contract with Delta, with Coelho and Esler saying that there have been times when the Fire Department had to cover shifts for Delta because staff were not available. Esler said the partnership with Delta had worked well otherwise. He told the council the Fire Department can generate enough revenue to support its own ambulance service.

Coelho and some councilors, including Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, and Tom McCormick, an independent representing Ward 7, said Waterville should go on its own. Council Chair Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, and Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, urged the council to table any decision on hiring a company to do the EMS study.

Beals said Friday that the council discussion was not the ultimate reason for terminating the agreement. That decision, he said, was actually made prior to that. He acknowledged that there have been times when Delta was short-staffed and Waterville filled in, but being short-staffed is common now for ambulance services and fire departments. Esler had told him that if ever Delta was short-staffed, Waterville would be happy to fill in, Beals said.

He added that staffing shortages were due to COVID-19 exposure-related absences and Delta had lost four of its employees to the Waterville Fire Department, including three paramedics and one EMT.


The reason the city and Delta formed the joint partnership Oct. 29, 2020, is that Esler and the Fire Department wanted to buy an ambulance, form its own ambulance service and get licensed by the state, which it did, after the City Council approval to do so. Coelho at the time was a city councilor who pushed for a city ambulance service, along with Councilor Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, who also worked with Esler and Coelho to lobby councilors to make the move.

At the time, public meetings were held and there were those who spoke out against the idea that Delta would be responding to fewer calls in the city. Some residents said they had always used Delta and wanted to maintain that relationship. The discussions led to the city and Delta deciding to try working together to staff ambulances.

“We stepped back and came up with this agreement, which is a partnership,” said Beals, who has been with Delta 38 years. “As you move through that, it has become more difficult to be in a partnership with someone when they start hiring your staff. That was the real impetus behind this (termination).”

“We’re just saying (to Waterville), we’re not going to staff your ambulances anymore. I’m going to bring those staff back in-house and we’re going to use them to cover other towns and provide mutual aid to those that need it.”

Delta is a regional service that has been in Waterville 50 years, having been launched by three hospitals — the then-Osteopathic, Seton and Thayer hospitals. Now it is an entity of MaineGeneral Health and Northern Light Health. Delta serves 14 other municipalities, none of which has its own licensed ambulance service. Winslow also formed an ambulance service and Delta serves as backup for that town when requested.

Prior to the city and Delta forming its joint EMS partnership in 2020, the Fire Department would respond to emergencies such as vehicle accidents as first responders and provide extrication and the like, but it was not licensed to transport patients to hospitals. Delta also responded and provided transport and paramedic medical care.

Meanwhile, Daly said Friday that the city wants to see if Delta will change its mind and continue in the contract.

“We’re reaching out to Delta so see if there’s some way we can deal with the issues we’ve been having and continuing the relationship,” he said. Asked if that means continuing temporarily or long-term, he responded: “For however long we can make it. We’re only half of this relationship. We don’t control the other side.”

Beals said he would take that request to Delta’s board of directors on May 25.

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