PBMC will also continue to use North East Mobile Health Services for inter-facility transports

Pen Bay, Waldo County General hospitals add new ambulance company for patient transports

Sun, 11/06/2022 - 10:15am

    BELFAST and ROCKPORT — Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital are contracting with a second ambulance service, NorthStar, based in Farmington, to transport patients who need to be taken to other health care facilities.

    Until last week, Pen Bay had been working with North East Mobile Health Services for the majority of its patient ground transfers.

    “To ensure that patients who need to be transported to another health facility receive timely and cost effective care, Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital are pleased to announce that they have established a working relationship with a second ambulance service,” according to a joint Nov. 4 statement of the Rockport and Belfast hospitals.

    PBMC will also continue to use North East Mobile Health Services for inter-facility transports, as it has for the past several years, the statement said.

    NorthStar Ambulance is associated the Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington. Like Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital, Franklin Memorial sits under the nonprofit corporate umbrella of the Portland-based MaineHealth.

    “Our focus is always on providing the best and most appropriate care for patients,” said Mark Fourré, president of PBMC and WCGH. “Sometimes that means transporting them to another facility that has a specialist or specific medical equipment. This relationship with NorthStar is an important step toward ensuring that these inter-facility transports can be scheduled quickly so our patients get the care they need without delay.”

    Jon Powers, division chief for North East Mobile Health Services, in Rockport, said Nov. 4 that his company had learned of the North Star addition a day prior.

    “EMS staffing levels locally and nationwide are dropping to dangerous levels,” he said. “Unfortunately, our staffing is now reaching near-critical levels. As a result, we are reducing our availability to un-contracted facilities such as Pen Bay and Waldo County hospitals in order to continue providing 911 responses to our contracted towns and mutual aid partners. We took this step with the transfer side of the business to provide better service to the communities that have chosen North East Mobile Health Services as their 911 provider, and I will stand by those. NEMHS will continue to assist Pen Bay and Waldo with interfacility and medical transports as staffing levels allow, but our contracted communities and facilities will take priority.

    “As of last night, we learned North Star Ambulance from Farmington will send an ambulance to PenBay to assist with the transfers out of the Coastal MaineHealth Hospitals,” he said. “They will try to schedule an ambulance at the hospital from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. for transfers, no emergency work. Our understanding is they will primarily utilize staff from their Farmington operation but may also seek to recruit staff from this area. An official start date is unavailable, but NorthStar officials said it could be sometime next week.”

    North East is a privately-owned company based in Scarborough. In the Midcoast, it also provides emergency response medical services to Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport. It acquired the local ambulance contracts of those towns in 2013.

    That year, voters in the four towns decided to sever ties with the nonprofit Camden First Aid Association after 77 years of relying on the same organization for ambulance service. Voters were asked if they would prefer to sign up with a southern Maine-based EMS business that an ad hoc team from the four towns had cited for its efficient business model, high-quality service and lower cost to local taxpayers. (Read: Time for Camden, Hope, Lincolnville, Rockport voters to decide their emergency care).

    According to Powers, the Rockport division of North East responds to approximately 1,900 911 calls each year.

    “During the 2021/2022 contract period, 96% of those calls had a paramedic,” he said. “Our contract with the towns requires a paramedic on 95% of the higher acuity calls.  We met that benchmark with over 99% of the calls having a paramedic. Our response times also met and exceeded the expectations of our contracts benchmarks 100% of the time.”

    Currently, the Rockport EMS staff is a minimum of one paramedic ambulance and one advanced EMT ambulance but most often it is two paramedic ambulances, said Powers.

    “Due to current staffing shortages a call out may leave us only able to staff one paramedic ambulance that is dedicated for 911,” he said. “Our team is very dedicated to the area and I can't say enough about the extra shifts and time they each put in to ensure the emergency call is answered locally and as quickly as possible.”

    When the time came for North East and Pen Bay to discuss the future of transports, Powers said: “Pen Bay had discussed an agreement but opted to do more research on their options and last week announced North Star. Pen Bay has been using several services to facilitate patient transport. In 2021 there were just under 1,400 transports by ambulance from Pen Bay, and North East transported 88.6% of those. In the first three quarters of 2022, there have been roughly 950 transports, with 90.3% of those by NEMHS.

    “Waldo Hospital used Belfast Ambulance & Rescue as their primary transport service. In 2021, there were just over 700 transports by ambulance, with Belfast transporting 61.8% of those patients and NEMHS 14.1%. In the first three quarters of 2022, there have been 530, with Belfast transporting 45.5% and NEMHS transporting 35.3%. We understand that Belfast shifted its priority, like we have, to focus on the 911 contracts due to staffing.”

    Meanwhile, the Camden and Rockport fire departments are increasing their first responder capacity, and some of the four-town firefighters and police officers have been trained as emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

    The goal is to have trained EMS personnel on hand to help victims in advance of North East ambulance arrival – “extra hands,” as was described by Camden firefighter Matt Heath to the Camden Select Board at an Oct. 4 meeting, and to assist North East with critical calls.

    “No changes will occur with the 911 contracts at this time and for the duration,” said Powers. “The [North East] Rockport division is ready and staffed to respond to the communities and will continue providing the highest levels of care.”

    Pen Bay and Waldo hospitals said the 75 EMS professionals of Franklin Memorial’s NorthStar program: “follow their mission of positive community activities, good stewardship of resources, and respectful and excellent patient care. With state-of-the-art equipment and modern ambulances, the service is ready, responsive and reliable.”

    Fourré said: “We want to thank North East for its continued commitment to providing EMS and transportation services to our communities and our patients.”

    Editor’s note: this story was updated to clarify that while North East provided the majority of patient transfers, it was not the sole transport service.

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657