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A new commission is reviewing challenges to Maine's ambulance services

An ambulance drives near University Hospital of Newark Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, in Newark, N.J.
Mel Evans
An ambulance drives near University Hospital of Newark Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, in Newark, N.J.

A new Blue Ribbon Commission met for the first time Thursday to review shortcomings in Maine’s emergency medical system and develop recommendations for addressing them.

EMS agencies have been sounding alarms for years about inadequate funding, aging rescue workers and the COVID pandemic, among other forces that have made it harder to deliver timely emergency response.

Rick Petrie, a paramedic who has administered regional EMS programs and sits on the commission, cited a recent example in which it took several calls to get help to a critically sick patient.

“The first person to be on scene to help this patient got there 35 minutes after the first tone and the first ambulance arrived on the scene 53 minutes after the first tone, and the patient did not survive," Petrie said. "That’s what our EMS providers and our EMS organizations are facing every single day. It turns our stomachs. It makes our heads pound and we’re in trouble.”

Another challenge is that specialty medical services have been increasingly consolidated in the state’s biggest hospitals. Kevin McGiniss, a former head of Maine’s EMS services, says that’s it gotten harder for ambulances to balance 911 calls against the need to transfer patients between hospitals with only a limited number of workers and vehicles.

“We can’t have enough ambulances on the road to cover the state, the geography of the state of Maine, to make sure that an interfacility ambulance is available in Rockland when Pen Bay [Medical Center] needs to transfer to Portland, when that same ambulance just went to Bangor," McGiniss said. "It doesn’t work. You can’t put ambulances behind every tree and have them available, because we don’t have the funding.”

The new commission was formed by legislation passed earlier this year.

It will meet several times over the next few months to review the funding available to EMS agencies, how they are governed and other parts of the system that could be improved.

A report is due back to lawmakers in December.

Maine's state EMS bureau is developing a separate strategic plan for overcoming the funding, staffing and governance challenges.