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Business and Economy

Maine CDC Hires Out-Of-State Company To Provide Emergency Preparedness Services

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The director of a southern Maine center that helps health systems prepare for emergencies is criticizing the LePage administration for hiring an out-of-state company to provide the service. In a letter posted on the Southern Maine Regional Resource Center website, Paul Weiss says the new contract awarded to a North Carolina company jeopardizes Maine's emergency preparedness. However, the only other company to bid on the contract, a Maine nonprofit, says the switch may be justified.

For more than a decade, three regional resource centers in Maine have prepared for large-scale health emergencies such as mass casualty events, flu outbreaks, even Ebola. These three resource centers, based in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor, coordinate with hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes and other providers.

Providers, says Rick Petrie, that don't have their own resources to coordinate a regional response.

"They need help, and regional resource centers were focusing on those kinds of of things,” Petrie says. “They're just trying to get people prepared."

Petrie is the executive director of Atlantic Partners EMS, a Maine-based nonprofit that works to improve the quality of emergency response services.

The Maine Center for Disease Control distributes federal money to the state's resource centers. The state agency recently issued a request for program support and gave preliminary approval to North Carolina-based All Clear Emergency Management Group. That decision drew ire from the director of the Southern Maine Regional Resource Center for emergency preparedness, Paul Weiss. Weiss declined to comment for this story, but in a letter to the Maine CDC that's posted on SMRRC's website, Weiss calls the decision to outsource management to an out of state company reckless, and demands the state to suspend contract negotiations.

"I first heard about this last week,” says Rick Erb, president of the Maine Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes.

Erb says he heard from a provider who is also concerned about the loss of institutional knowledge.

“Simply because it's been a productive relationship with Paul Weiss and SMRRC,” he says.

SMRRC and its counterpart in Bangor, the Northeast Maine Regional Resource Center, operate under the umbrella of the two major health systems in the state: MaineHealth and Northern Light Health. Both organizations issued statements that they're working with the CDC to better understand the change.

The provider who appears to be most at ease with the switch is the single competing bidder for the contract, that is, Petrie.

"The organization looks like they're well-qualified,” he says.

And All Clear of North Carolina's bid also came in about $100-thousand less than Atlantic Partners' bid.

As for the loss of in-state knowledge, Petrie isn't concerned about that either. The contract requires that four coordinators be hired to work out-of-state offices from Portland to Bangor.

"My understanding is they've been recruiting in the state for those positions,” Petrie says. “So the reality of it is that there's a really good possibility that whoever that they hire is going to understand what's going on in the state of Maine. " The contract is set to take effect in January.

In an email, CDC spokesperson Emily Spencer says the agency is in final negotiations, which include developing a comprehensive plan to hire and recruit Maine residents to lead the transition and oversight of emergency health preparedness.