ELLSWORTH — A May 6 meeting of the Emergency Services Committee ended with a consensus to recommend that the City Council approve signing a three-year service agreement with Northern Light Medical Transport, as NLMT presented it to them. Earlier, the city had requested specific details on the service the ambulance service would provide in Ellsworth be included in the agreement, but NLMT declined, preferring to use the same agreement it has with other towns.
“This has been kicked around and kicked down the road,” City Manager Glenn Moshier said, acknowledging several months of negotiations between the city and NLMT. The council tabled the issue for its past four meetings.
While rumbles of creating a city-owned emergency medical service have grown louder during that time, Moshier recommended a phased, gradual approach, should the city decide to move forward.
As it stands, the agreement states that NLMT will provide a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week emergency ambulance service “that shall respond promptly and efficiently to all calls for service originating within the service area of the municipality. If NLMT is not available, then mutual aid will be used.” Response times are not part of the agreement, an issue for some councilors, given that the Ellsworth-based NLMT ambulance may be on an out-of-city call when an emergency is reported in Ellsworth.
“It’s obviously ambiguous,” Moshier said. “Your reasonableness may be different than mine.” The city had wanted the agreement to spell out the specific number of NLMT ambulances and staff on hand.
The agreement would start on July 1, 2021, and run through June 30, 2024, and cost the city about $56,000 the first year. That $7 per capita rate, based on 2010 census numbers, will rise to $9.54 per capita the second year and, for the third year, an additional 3 percent. For the second and third year, the 2020 census numbers will likely be used, for a third-year cost in the $80,000 to $90,000 range, Moshier said.
He noted after the meeting that the city could request an exit clause to leave the contract before its three years are up. Currently, only a breach of the agreement, bankruptcy or being debarred from providing the service by a federal agency are grounds to terminate the agreement.
“They’ve got us over a barrel now,” Councilor Michelle Kaplan said. “They’re not providing any better service than we have now.”
Currently, the city receives NLMT emergency ambulance service at no cost, while NLMT rents space for its ambulance and crews in the Fire Department. But, when NLMT chose to move to new quarters on Main Street, now under construction, it sought a paid agreement with Ellsworth. And city firefighters are still legally bound to respond to nearly every call, after the city licensed the department as an emergency medical services agency in 2020 to cover liability issues from firefighters assisting NLMT. This is a burden to the department, according to interim Fire Chief Gary Saunders, and leaves them understaffed for fire protection.
“[The agreement is] costing the city a lot and it’s not the best service,” Councilor Robert Miller said. “It’s not the service we hoped for when we went into the agreement.” Still, he said signing the agreement will move the city forward “in a positive way” and committee members agreed.
“It buys us some time,” Councilor John Phillips said. “It’s as good as it’s going to be.”