Downeast EMS Attains Financial Stability After Near-Closure

Presenting Chase Smith of the First Bank with a check for $210,117 is Downeast EMS Director Eddie Moreside as Operations Manager Casey Bearer stands by. The amount represents the balance of a loan taken out five years ago by the struggling ambulance service, which has since regained its financial footing – and then some. (Submitted photo)

By Lura Jackson

 

Five short years ago, Downeast EMS was in trouble. The ambulance service was $100,000 in debt, its trucks were worn down and employees didn’t know if they’d be getting paid from one week to the next. The bleak picture is a sharp contrast to that of today. Not only has the service regained financial stability, it has become a major financial success – to the point that Director Eddie Moreside just paid off a $485,000 refinancing loan from the First Bank five years before it was due.

“We are set,” Moreside said. “Not only have we paid off this loan, but we are financially very stable.” In the last two and a half years, the service has replaced five of its ambulances, and it recently updated its on-board equipment to the latest model of Lifepak 15.

The news is very welcome for the 13 communities that Downeast EMS serves as well as its approximately 50 employees which are spread across its bases in Eastern Washington County.

In 2013, it was clear that the service needed to do something to restructure itself. Unable to pay its bills, it had no means to update its equipment. “Our trucks were in need of a lot of repairs, due to the age of the ambulances,” Moreside said. The financial situation took a further turn for the worse as some towns opted to go with another service.

Downeast EMS’s director at the time, Steve Welch, successfully lobbied the board to request a refinance loan from the First Bank. Three communities – Eastport, Lubec, and the Unorganized Territories – came forward to support the service in its pitch to the bank, which was ultimately successful, Moreside said. “They went out on a limb. The future wasn’t looking bright for Downeast EMS back then.”

With the loan in hand, the service immediately began restructuring, particularly in how it scheduled its employees. “We found that these hospitals are transporting a lot of people on to further care, so we had to regroup and change the way that we do business,” Moreside said. “Back in 2012, all along, it was, ‘We only need one medic a day.’ Now, in Baileyville, we staff two medics, 24/7. That provides not only people available to do these transfers, it provides better patient care for the people in the communities we serve.”

Not only did Downeast EMS arrange its scheduling so that more medics were available more often, it also improved the level of training its medics had. “Now, 95 percent of the time, when somebody calls for an ambulance they get an advanced EMT or a paramedic,” Moreside said, explaining that the shift resulted in the service being able to bill more as well as being able to provide the best care possible.

With transport times to Bangor taking up to 50 minutes, having skilled medics is a must. “You have to have people that know what they’re doing,” Moreside said.

The shift was a quick success for the service, which has seen increasing call volumes every year. In 2014, Downeast EMS handled 1,600 calls, while this year it is on track to do more than 2,000.

The greater financial breathing room has enabled Downeast EMS to continue its efforts of assisting the community through outreach, including holding blood pressure clinics and providing stand-by service at community sporting events. In Baileyville, the service partners with the Baileyville Police Department to conduct wellness checks on individuals that do not have immediate caregivers or nearby family. “It’s a good service for people that are, so to speak, left out to dry,” Moreside said.

Recognizing that his roster is generally getting older, Moreside emphasized that Downeast EMS is actively looking to train future EMTs. It is currently running a junior EMT class in Baileyville for those between the ages of 16-18. Adults who are interested in becoming an EMT, meanwhile, are invited to contact Downeast EMS at 427-6100.

“Our biggest asset is our employees,” Moreside said. “The majority of them take their work very personally – to provide the best patient care that can be provided to that patient.” The financial stability of the service is reflected in its treatment of its employees. Whereas for five years prior to 2013 employees hadn’t gotten a single raise, in the past five years they’ve gotten one every year since.

 

For Moreside, who emphasizes that the financial turnaround was very much a group effort that exemplifies what communities can accomplish when they work together, Downeast EMS’s story is a success that everyone shares. “Thanks for sticking by us,” Moreside said, addressing the public in general. “If it wasn’t for people sticking behind us – everybody involved, including the communities – we wouldn’t have made it.”