HARPSWELL — Big changes may be coming to the way the town provides emergency medical services.
The Board of Selectmen on Dec. 1 unanimously endorsed a study that recommends the town hire Mid Coast Hospital for daytime, weekday paramedical services at an estimated annual cost of at least $123,000.
Harpswell’s volunteer EMTs would continue to be responsible for nights and weekends, when the town would continue to use Mid Coast for paramedic support.
The town would also have to construct a centrally located garage to house a vehicle and paramedic between emergency calls, an estimated cost of about $200,000.
Cundy’s Harbor Rescue Capt. Cricket Tupper told selectmen the changes are necessary to ensure adequate medical coverage during the day, when many volunteer emergency medical technicians are at work outside of Harpswell.
“We have arrived at a crisis state in all of our rescue services in terms of having enough volunteers to reliably provide responses,” she said.
Fire and Rescue Committee members, who authored the study, also hoped that having a paramedic on call would help attract more volunteer EMTs, whose declining numbers pose a challenge to maintaining the all-volunteer service.
Ed Sparks, rescue chief for the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department, said a paramedic would be able to ride along with a patient to hospitals as far away as Maine Medical Center in Portland, freeing up volunteers to return to work.
Selectman Alison Hawkes noted that volunteers spend a lot of time on administrative duties, something that is unappealing to those considering joining the Fire Department.
“When young kids see how much work that is … and you’re doing it all for nothing, that could be a deterrent,” she said.
Having a paramedic assist with the paperwork, Hawkes said, could ease the burden on volunteers and possibly attract more of them.
Even if the garage isn’t built right away, Tupper said she and the other rescue chiefs want the service so badly that the Orr’s and Bailey Islands department is offering a garage bay to house the vehicle.
Although he supported hiring Mid Coast Hospital, Fire and Rescue Committee member Len Freeman argued that the town should take a more comprehensive look at the future of its rescue services.
He described the study as a having succeeded in finding a short-term solution, but failing to address the fundamental issue facing all three Harpswell emergency medical services: the town’s growing elderly population and shrinking young and middle-aged population.
A contract with Mid Coast Hospital will be presented to voters at the annual Town Meeting in March. Board Chairwoman Elinor Multer warned residents to be prepared for a larger budget next year.
“Things that cost considerable amounts of money are becoming necessary,” she said.