Maine City Considers Fees for Excessive Non-Emergency Calls

BANGOR, Maine – Last year, one Bangor resident called for emergency assistance 171 times. Another person called first responders to their home only to ask the firefighter to hand them an out-of-reach TV remote control.

In response to a growing number of calls for aid that Bangor’s emergency responders say shouldn’t be necessary, the Fire Department wants the city to start charging fees to people or institutions who frequently call for help when no one needs to be taken to a hospital.

“We’re not trying to penalize these people,” Fire Chief Tom Higgins told members of the city’s Government Operations Committee during a meeting Monday night. “We’re trying to get them to make a more appropriate decision.”

Among the most frequent calls for Bangor EMTs and firefighters are lift assists — situations in which an elderly or disabled person can’t get up or move from one location to another under their own power.

“We want to do the right thing by these people, but when we’ve come 20 or 30 times, it gets to be a drain,” Higgins said.

Under the proposal, an individual who requests help without being taken to the hospital between four and eight times in a year would be charged $25 per vehicle that dealt with those calls. Once they exceed nine requests, that would jump to $125 per vehicle. Someone who requests emergency responders three or fewer times without an emergency wouldn’t be charged.

There would be larger fees for institutions, such as assisted living complexes, which would pay $25 per responding vehicle up to the third nonemergency call in one year, and $125 per vehicle after the fourth call.

Some facilities have “no lift” policies, which bar employees from picking up people who have fallen or are struggling to move from one spot to another, usually for insurance reasons. That means when someone can’t get up, those institutions call Bangor firefighters for help.

“If we get a call, we need to respond,” Higgins said, but deploying an ambulance and firetruck is costly. When a person isn’t taken to a hospital, the Fire Department can’t bill insurance or an individual for services and has to swallow the costs.

This new fee wouldn’t be intended to drive revenue, however, Higgins said. He hopes the city would never have to leverage these fees against anyone. Instead, the fees are meant to be preventative. If someone is consistently having trouble getting around under their own power, they should be seeking alternative living arrangements where someone — whether it be a family member or staff person — is available to help them.

Higgins and Patty Hamilton, director of Bangor Public Health, said they work together to try to ensure that individuals who frequently call on emergency personnel can find access to better living arrangements and not rely as heavily on EMTs when there isn’t an immediate health problem.

“While a need does exist for assistance for those unable to perform certain tasks, the Fire Department is not always the appropriate institution to be filling that need,” Higgins said.

For example, the person who called dispatch services for help 171 times last year is now in an assisted living facility.

Bangor City Council will review the proposed fees and may recommend changes before deciding whether to institute them.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.



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