Robert ‘Butch’ Russell: Camden shifts blame, misrepresents truth

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 11:15am

For over a decade, North East Mobile Health Services (NEMHS) has been a mainstay in the communities of Camden, Rockport, Hope, and Lincolnville. Over these years, we have employed dozens of residents in service of their neighbors. We are a business of Mainers helping Mainers and it is an honor to fulfill the promise we made to these communities to provide responsive, reliable, and compassionate care at times of peril and need throughout the continuum of care. 

Our ability to maintain both a positive business and civic relationship in these towns is a great source of pride. By scaling and combining resources among communities, NEMHS provides reliable, quality and responsive ambulance and transport services at a fraction of the cost of a municipally managed service. Our efficient management approach saves the patient and the taxpayers money.

It therefore came as a great shock to see our reputation disparaged so flagrantly by town leaders of Camden and Rockport at a July 30 public workshop. The insinuations, statements and characterization of our performance and contract fulfillment as stated at this meeting and reported in subsequent news articles are without merit and a gross misrepresentation of the truth. 

To have asserted these claims in a public forum without directly inviting a representative from our company to respond to the false information presented is unfair, unprofessional, and a disservice to taxpayers. Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, mischaracterizing the circumstances of the tragic deaths of two community members four years prior is an affront to their memory and beneath public officials. 

Accordingly, we feel compelled to respond in this public forum to present the facts, defend our reputation, and preserve our community standing. 

Since NEMHS was contracted to provide emergency ambulance services to the towns of Camden, Rockport, Hope and Lincolnville we have never failed to meet performance standards and have in fact exceeded them. We are happy to share our data demonstrating this fact: NEMHS Performance 2018-2019. 

Any attempt to claim otherwise demonstrates either a lack of contract comprehension or willful misrepresentation. Unfortunately, we fear that it is the latter since it was the Town of Camden that designed the contract and insisted on the metrics in use despite our presentation of metrics that were more accurate and in line with industry standards. 

In addition, NEMHS proposed a more robust level of service to address concerns pertaining to response time and availability. Specifically, NEMHS proposed dedicating ambulances to emergency services for the four towns. However, this offer was declined because the towns determined that call volume did not warrant the cost. 

At the February 26 Camden select board meeting, former selectman John French pointed out this reality, stating: “These people (NEMHS) do great work and I think we are getting the contract that we negotiated… They have done a good job and done what we have asked of them.” 

Mr. French then addressed NEMHS’ offer of dedicated trucks stating: “They offered us a 911 truck, but it was like $600,000, which is probably really a true number. We weren’t willing to go down that route.” 

The second important feature of the contract is the establishment of mutual aid, which is standard in every system across the country. Mutual aid is an agreement between two or more services to provide back-up coverage when one of those services is fully occupied. It is not only necessary to ensure public safety, but also provides cost efficiency across neighboring towns. This too was misrepresented by town officials.

Last year, NEMHS was dispatched to more than 1,580 calls in Camden, Rockport, Hope, and Lincolnville. Of those, only 41 required mutual aid or 2.6%. As a comparison, we reviewed the number of times mutual aid was used in over 90 communities in York, Cumberland, Knox, and Lincoln Counties. The average rate of mutual aid use in these communities was 6.1%.

Specific instances of mutual aid requests were also criticized and mischaracterized at the meeting in question, including a recent fire in Hope. After a mutual review with Hope town officials, the root cause of delayed mutual aid was determined to be Knox Regional Communications Center’s (KRCC) continued refusal to communicate with NEMHS dispatch. 

KRCC, for which Camden Fire Chief Chris Farley is chair, insists that NEMHS paramedics should be responsible for communicating their availability while simultaneously responding to the initial emergency. In other words, rather than simply communicate with NEMHS dispatch as emergency communication centers do in Sagadahoc, Portland, and most other communities, KRCC insists that our paramedics interrupt their response to the preceding emergency to communicate their availability.

NEMHS has repeatedly requested that KRCC communicate directly with our dispatch to avoid situations such as occurred in Hope only to be met with repeated obstinance. Similarly, we have requested several meetings with fire chiefs of both Camden and Rockport to address concerns only to be told their schedules do not match up. 

We lament the need for this public airing and hope that we can return to what unites us – a shared desire to preserve the health and safety of our neighbors. But we also cannot allow our reputation to be disparaged by unfounded claims and misrepresentations. 

We look forward to accepting the outreach Camden and Rockport officials indicated was forthcoming, but which at their own admittance was not initially afforded, and to productively working towards achieving the best solution for our neighbors.  


Robert “Butch” Russell is CEO of Northeast Mobile Health Services, based in Scarborough