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Milford Hospital to Drop Paramedic Service; ALS Being Farmed Out to Communities

MILFORD, Mass. — Milford Regional Medical Center plans to discontinue the Advanced Life Support paramedic service it provides to at least 17 area towns sometime next year.

Obviously, this is a very difficult decision, said hospital CEO Francis M. Saba. This is a very excellent program, with very excellent service for 20 years.

Mr. Saba met with fire chiefs from Uxbridge, Milford, Millville, Upton and Hopedale on Monday to inform them of the plans, and met with the hospital s paramedics yesterday morning to inform them of the hospital s decision to discontinue the program next year. Mr. Saba said he will meet with officials from the other affected communities today.

Mr. Saba said the tough decision to discontinue the paramedic service stemmed from financial pressures and the trend of towns of providing their own ALS services. Other hospitals have discontinued their paramedic services in recent years. According to Mr. Saba, Caritas Norwood Hospital in Norwood and MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham no longer provide paramedic services.

The problem for Milford Regional Medical Center became how to sustain a paramedic program when 12 out of 17 towns served have some form of their own paramedic service.

There are more than 20 paramedics in the service and, of those, nine have regularly scheduled hours while the balance work per diem.

We re looking to see if there is any way to employ them here in some other department, Mr. Saba said. We want to do whatever we can to find them employment here or elsewhere.

There at least 17 towns in the paramedic service area. Of those, eight towns already have developed their own paramedic or ALS service: Blackstone, Bellingham, Franklin, Hopkinton, Mendon, Norfolk, Northbridge and Wrentham. Four towns share ALS coverage between the Milford hospital s paramedics and private ambulance companies: Medway, Millis, Holliston and Douglas. In addition, Douglas shares paramedic service with Oxford.

The remaining five towns depend exclusively on the Milford hospital for paramedic service: Hopedale, Milford, Millville, Upton and Uxbridge.

These towns all have been extremely supportive of our service, Mr. Saba said.

Mendon currently dispatches the calls for the Milford hospital s paramedics. There were over 3,500 calls for the hospital s paramedic service in 2007.

Mr. Saba said there is no definite date to end the paramedic service, although hospital officials have discussed ending the program in six to seven months. Hospital officials want to make sure the towns have time to make the transition to contract with private paramedic companies or to develop their own paramedic programs.

Most towns do the billing for themselves, though the hospital has a financial arrangement with a few of the towns.

It s more of a service, Mr. Saba said. And there s less need for that service with towns developing their own services.

Milford is the largest user of the paramedic services, according to Mr. Saba.

Milford Fire Chief John P. Touhey said he was at the meeting on Monday for the communities that rely primarily on the Milford hospital s paramedic service.

We ve had a great relationship with the hospital and the services they ve provided over the years, Chief Touhey said. He said citizens in Milford will not experience any dramatic difference in service because they have been planning for what they felt would be an eventuality. Realistically, we knew this day would come. This shouldn t be a surprise to anyone as more communities go to their own ALS service. But I know some of the smaller communities will struggle.

Chief Touhey said the town should not experience any additional costs or loss in service, because the town s current contract with a private company, American Medical Response, was negotiated to provide a contingency if the Milford hospital discontinued its paramedic service. In Milford, AMR will transfer its service from basic life support to ALS ambulances when the hospital discontinues its service. Chief Touhey said he also expects that the region s private ambulance companies will probably step up to the plate.

The paramedic program started out as an idea 20 years ago to improve the emergency medical care of patients being transported to the hospital at Routes 16 and 140 in Milford.

Milford Regional Medical Center will still provide medical support to towns through their medical staff and their expertise, Mr. Saba said. We have a good relationship with all the communities, and we will work hard to maintain a good medical relationship. We ll all be looking at how to do this with this transition.