Panel says Harpswell should privatize daytime emergency medical response

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HARPSWELL — A committee formed to study fire and rescue needs is recommending the town hire Mid Coast Hospital to provide daytime paramedic services.

The arrangement could cost the town an estimated $123,000 to $346,000 annually.

Volunteers would continue to respond to medical emergencies at night and on weekends.

The change in the way Harpswell provides emergency medical services to its residents is necessary, the committee concluded, because the town’s three volunteer fire departments do not have enough members to cover the daytime shift.

In addition, Harpswell’s volume of emergency calls is increasing, along with the percentage of elderly residents, who have a greater need for the services.

For the past few months, the Fire and Rescue Committee has been interviewing various emergency medical service providers to determine which would work best for the town. They spoke with area hospitals, private medical transportation companies, the town of Brunswick, and considered hiring a paramedic as a town employee.

But a majority of committee members concluded that only one, Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, meets all the criteria.

Harpswell already utilizes the hospital’s paramedic “fly car” service to supplement volunteer EMTs when more advanced medical care is needed, and many residents are familiar with the hospital.

In addition to the annual cost of the service, Mid Coast is asking the town to build a heated garage with phone and Internet connections to house a paramedic and emergency response vehicle. The garage is estimated to cost between $150,000 and $200,000, and would be located near the town offices on Mountain Road.

The committee also recommended that the new service arrangement be finalized as soon as possible so that it could start up shortly after the annual Town Meeting in March, when Harpswell voters would have to authorize the new expenditures.

The town would conduct an independent review of the service once it starts up to evaluate its effectiveness.

Harpswell Neck Fire Chief David Mercier presented the findings to selectmen on Oct. 13. Before the issue returns to the board, the Budget Advisory Committee will weigh in.

The committee report is available online under the link to the Oct. 13 selectman’s agenda.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.