Ambulance service in the red

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Stricter rules from Medicare and insurance companies are squeezing the local ambulance service’s income, which is partly why they are asking the town for $78,000 this year — $11,000 more than last year.

“Insurance companies and Medicare will only pay for certain kinds of calls,” said Patti Selig, who is the treasurer of the Southwest Harbor-Tremont Nursing Service’s board of directors.

“The rules have gotten stricter,” she added, explaining one difference. “If you can walk to the ambulance, Medicare will not pay for the service. But, if you’re put on a stretcher, they’ll pay.”

A financial statement given to town officials with their budget solicitation a few weeks ago show the Southwest Harbor-Tremont Nursing Service, also known as the ambulance service, operating with a deficit of $47,000.

In addition to the amount being requested by the nonprofit from Southwest Harbor, they are also requesting $58,000 from the town of Tremont. That amount is based on the number of emergency calls from each town, according to Selig.

“The amount we get from the municipalities is maybe a quarter of what it costs to run the ambulance service,” she said. “We’re just asking the town to put more towards these community services that people expect to be there.”

There are about 20 part-time employees of the nursing service who cover the station 24 hours, seven days a week. Most work 24 – 36 hours a week and there are no full-time employees, according to Selig.

In 2019, there were 351 calls, about 25 percent of those for at-home assistance that did not involve being transported to a medical facility. The service can only bill for calls that involve transportation, according to the letter submitted with their request.

“Some of the people who are in need of these services the most are in the least position to pay,” selectman Kristin Hutchins told the select board at their Jan. 28 meeting. She is a driver for the service and recused herself from the table for any decisions regarding the nonprofit. “We’re finding Medicare is getting stingier all the time. We’re just finding it difficult.”

Selectmen unanimously approved the requested amount in their preliminary budget that is now going to the town’s Warrant Committee for review.

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Lydia Goetze offered Hutchins a recommendation to bring back the ambulance service’s board of directors.

“You really need to work on development,” said Goetze before the board voted. “They’ve gone down $20,000 over the last three years. You need to work on your fundraising.”

According to Selig, the $20,000 discrepancy in the budget was because of a bequest for that amount that was left to the nonprofit in 2017.

“We try to be as fiscally responsible as we can,” she said in an interview with the Islander. “Actually, fundraising has increased. Our annual appeal this year was really successful.”

In addition to the municipal contributions to the organization’s $341,000 budget, as well as user fees and donations, the service also gets income from an endowment fund that was started at the service’s inception.


Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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