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New Hampshire Center Puts Strain on Rescuers

Londonderry - Ambulance calls to the Elliot Urgent Care at Londonderry have soared since the medical center opened in 2008. And for many town officials and residents, the spike in medical calls raises concerns about the local nonprofit medical center's impact on the town's strained fire services.

In 2009, the Buttrick Road facility sent out 234 ambulance calls to the local fire department. That figure far exceeds the estimates given by the company when the building went through the local permitting process, said Town Manager David Caron.

The original estimate given by the company at the public hearings was a half-dozen ambulance calls per year, he said.

Since the town bills the medical facility for any ambulance calls, the actual tax impact of the $16 million medical center, which pays about $320,000 in property taxes annually, probably isn't significant, said Caron. More of a concern for councilors and residents is whether the medical center is diverting ambulance and fire services away from other emergencies and increasing the town's reliance on mutual aid, he said.

"We are monitoring the situation, and if it becomes an issue for our public safety, then we will have to sit down and have a talk with Elliot," said Caron.

The Elliot medical center was brought up several times last Thursday evening during a debate about whether the council should pursue a federal grant for more full-time firefighters. Fire Chief Kevin MacCaffrie said his department also has to handle calls for Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, another big driver of the call volume increase his department has experienced over the last eight years. The airport had 186 calls in 2009, he said.

"If we didn't have Elliot, we'd certainly have an easier time," said MacCaffrie, though he acknowledged Elliot is only one part of the problem.

While the ambulance call volume to the medical center may seem staggering, Councilor John Farrell pointed out that, based on conversations with Elliot, the patients who check themselves into Elliot for treatment would have eventually called for 911 service anyway. MacCaffrie agreed with that assessment.

The Elliot facility only deals with what are classified as "urgent" medical issues, versus emergency situations, which is more the domain of a traditional hospital. So if any emergency situations arises, the medical center calls in ambulance service.

Elliot spokesperson Anne-Marie Hafeman said the hospital supervisors she spoke with were unaware of any problems with Londonderry. The medical center hasn't been hearing any complaints from the public, she added.

"We work with Londonderry EMS, and we are always trying to problem solve," said Hafeman.

Caron said the council is exploring alternatives to dealing with the increased ambulance call volume that the town is experiencing. One option is to out-source ambulance service to a private contractor. Another is to increase staffing at the fire department.

"You can't control the situation," said Caron. "But you can address it."



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