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Maine Ambulance Service Asks for Funding Help

BINGHAM, Maine -- Since 2008, the Upper Kennebec Valley Ambulance Service has seen a 30 percent decrease in the number of requests to take people to the hospital.

That means the service is receiving less income.

There has been a 16.5 percent decrease in the number of emergency calls and a significant 59 percent decrease in the number of non-emergency calls.

In addition to a decrease in calls, the number of patients without insurance has increased 4 percent; Medicare has decreased its reimbursement for ambulance transports; and the cost of fuel, supplies and payroll has increased.

This scenario has contributed to the ambulance service running out of money. Currently operating in the red, the service is asking the towns it serves in central Somerset County to help it continue taking sick and injured people to the hospital.

Bingham, Moscow, Caratunk and Pleasant Ridge, The Forks and West Forks plantations, plus Somerset County government, pay a portion of the ambulance service's budget each year. In 2010, local subsidies made up $120,000 of its total budget of $398,720.

But, in order to continue operating until March, when the communities will approve their budgets, the ambulance service says it needs $34,000.

"This is something out of the ordinary, but it has to be done in order to keep the service open," said Laurie Laweryson, a co-coordinator of the ambulance service.

Without the service, patients would have to wait for ambulances from Skowhegan to respond, she said.

"It's going to be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour-and-a-half out," Laweryson said.

Each of the communities will soon hold special town meetings to vote whether to provide the requested sums, which would come from their surplus accounts.

The ambulance service is asking for the following amounts: Bingham, $12,410; Moscow, $8,840; Caratunk, $2,278; Pleasant Ridge, $2,006; West Forks, $1,632; and The Forks, $1,530.

Because it serves unorganized territories, the ambulance service has also asked Somerset County government to contribute $5,304.

County Administrator Larry Post said the county was scheduled to make a payment to the ambulance service in January anyway. It will also plan to give an increased amount as part of the county's next budget, which begins July 1.

"Our big issue is simply travel distance. If you don't have an ambulance there, then how far does one have to come from elsewhere?" Post said. "It is important that rural ambulances are still viable."

The ambulance serves people across approximately 375 square miles.

Donald Beane, a Moscow selectman, said surplus accounts are in place because of circumstances such as this one.

Bingham selectman Steve Steward added, "We need the ambulance service. You take this whole valley without one -- I don't want to put anybody at risk."

From south to north, the ambulance operates from Solon to Johnson Mountain Township. West to east, it serves Botown Township to Mayfield Township, Laweryson said.

In 2008, there were a total of 428 calls, including 309 for emergencies and 119 for non-emergencies, according to the ambulance service. In 2011, there were slightly more than 300 calls, including about 260 for emergencies and 50 for non-emergencies.

In 2010, 69 percent of calls were for patients on Medicare.

The service has a total of $80,000 of uncollected debt, Laweryson said.

"We are running day to day and praying we don't need anything. We have a good stock of supplies, so we're all set there," she said.

"The biggest thing is we have run on the same budget for three years. We haven't increased our subsidies to our towns for three years," she said. "The cost of everything else has gone up."



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