Greenville ambulance service deals with challenges
GREENVILLE — Greenville has long been considered a town on the edge of wilderness. Centuries ago the wild forests were logged and Moosehead Lake was instrumental in moving those logs from the forests to mills downstream of the lake’s outlets. The town, incorporated in 1836, prospered as a result of this industry. Homes and churches were built.
The only thing the bustling town lacked was a hospital, which, thanks to forward-thinking businessman Charles A. Dean, President of Hollingsworth & Whitney pulp and paper company, became a reality in 1911. Built to meet the healthcare needs of the local community, the tourists that flocked to the area as well as the lumbermen, C.A. Dean Hospital has been a boon to the area, providing critical care to a little under 3,400 year-round folks in the roughly 1,800 square mile territory encompassing Piscataquis and northern Somerset counties which includes the lake, six towns and multiple unorganized territories.
Along with critical care, C.A. Dean provides life-saving ambulance service to this vast area. Kevin Springer, Director of Ambulance Services, said that to operate this important service, they have “17 employees on the roster; five paramedics, four Advanced EMT’s, four EMT Basics and four non-medical drivers.” Challenges include the fact that they have seen a “sharp decline in volunteer or per diem employees over the past ten years.” Springer pointed out that the reasons for that solely revolve around personal time and money issues. “Most employees have at least one full time job, sometimes two, and are unable to keep up with a busy pace of emergency medicine,” he said.
Another factor impeding volunteers is the necessary training. The EMT course alone costs roughly $1,000 and takes about six months to complete. “If the candidate is successful at passing the National Registry of EMT exam, we as an employer still need to train that employee to be successful on their own,” Springer said. “It is not uncommon for an ambulance crew to respond to a medical call three hours away without any communication with a medical doctor.” Distance is one of the major challenges for the Greenville EMT.
In addition to the vastness of the area covered, it can sometimes involve a bit of juggling. “As the world of EMS goes, when it rains it pours, “ Springer observed. “Some days we can cover five or six 911 emergency calls including patient transports to appropriate facilities. Other days we don’t turn a wheel. With that being said,” he continued. “We roughly cover 600 calls per year, combined emergency 911 calls and Transfers. As you know, we are a very seasonal region, and I would say monthly average calls range from 30-60.”
EMT and former Town Manager, John Simko works with Springer whenever he has availability. “C.A. Dean Hospital has three ambulances at this time,” he said. “These rigs are rotated in such a way so that one is designated for emergency calls, another for transfers out of town and the third is a spare. One rig is a brand new 2018 customized rig for which the Hilton family provided a substantial donation to C.A. Dean.” Despite having three designated vehicles, sometimes Greenville EMTs are so busy that they ask for help. “We call around to other ambulance services to see of they will come to Greenville and transport the patient for us,” Simko explained. “This is happening less frequently now that additional full time crew members have been hired.”
“Ten or fifteen years ago we relied more on a volunteer-based roster,” observed Springer. “We had a much larger pool of licensed EMS people to draw from. The basic pay was and still is $3 per hour to be on call for a twelve-hour shift. If you were to go out on a call your minimum wage would be $11 to $20 per hour depending on experience and license level.”
In addition to their fleet of three ambulances, C.A. Dean, as a rural hospital, has access to LifeFlight helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for transporting patients. The use of these can make the difference between life and death for a patient and are valuable additional tools in the work of savings someone’s life.
Springer came to C.A. Dean with a great deal of experience, beginning in 1999 as an EMT and an EMT Advanced in New Hampshire. “I have also worked with many Fire Departments, Rescue services and volunteered with multiple Search and Rescue teams,” he noted. “And, have held my EMS license throughout the years in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Tennessee.” He relocated back to Greenville in 2005 and took the position as EMS Director at C.A. Dean Hospital.
Working for Greenville’s rural ambulance service has meant a lot to Springer. “The sense of pride in this community is what strikes me the most,” he remarked. “I have an outstanding crew here at C.A. Dean with a wealth of knowledge. And, the Medical Staff at C.A. Dean Hospital has always been very pro EMS and supports us with our mission. I couldn’t ask for a better ambulance crew or community to work with,” he added.
Just then, his radio went off. “The ambulance just got toned out to go to Chesuncook Village for a patient having a stroke,” he said. “That would involve approximately 2 ½ hour travel time to the Pine Stream Road off of the Golden Road,” he noted. “And, the patient is an additional 15 miles in on a snowmobile trail. These are our challenges!”
If you are interested in learning more and possibly joining Greenville’s EMS community contact Springer at 695-5282 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.