June 06, 2020

Lubec’s emergency dispatch change debated

LUBEC — A request that Lubec officials re-evaluate the town’s switch from a municipal- to a county-operated emergency dispatching system was taken under advisement by selectmen Thursday.

The selectmen made it clear to Carolyn Mitchell, director of Regional Medical Center in Lubec, that any change in the present system to include dispatching of local physicians on weekends, nights and other times when the medical center is closed, will most likely have to come from county commissioners, not the town.

“That system is gone now,” Chairman Carlton Leighton told Mitchell. “The proper place for you to go is through the commissioners.”

“I disagree,” replied Mitchell. “I thought the proper place was to go through the selectmen who took the service away from the community.”

About 300 residents attended the town’s annual meeting on Aug. 6, at which time they voted to dismantle the town-operated system in favor of contracting with the county’s Regional Communications Center for the service.

The selectmen came under fire in recent weeks from Mitchell and other residents who claimed that selectmen broke a promise to Lubec’s citizens that the switch would not result in any changes in service.

Mitchell argued that physician dispatching was part of the town’s dispatching service for nearly 25 years. County officials viewed physician dispatching as a private answering service and did not include it in the contract with the town. The change became effective on Sept. 4.

Mitchell said the change in service was one that Lubec’s residents were not told about before the annual meeting. “You didn’t make that known to the public,” Mitchell told selectmen Thursday. “The general public felt they were still getting all the services they had been getting for 25 years.”

Mitchell maintains the board could have negotiated with the county “for all of it. I’m just asking the board to correct this.”

The selectmen responded by voting to take Mitchell’s request under advisement. But Paul Crandall, a selectman and acting town manager, said after the vote, “The key is Carolyn has to go to the commissioners or RCC. We’re not in that business any more.”

Mitchell replied by asking Crandall, “You’re not in the business of caring for your people?”

Crandall moved abruptly for adjournment.

In a memorandum to Selectman Reginald Sawtelle, Mitchell explained that under the former dispatching system, persons needing emergency medical services “would call local dispatch. The dispatcher would take his name, telephone number and a brief history from the caller” then call the on-duty physician with the information.

The physician would then call the patient back to assess the medical problem. “Depending on the nature of the problem, the physician would then see the person at their home, at the medical center or wherever necessary,” Mitchell said.

Extreme emergencies — so-called “Code 3 calls” — resulted in an ambulance being immediately dispatched. The person was taken by ambulance to the Regional Medical Center in Lubec, stabilized and rushed to a nearby hospital. “If a person was in critical condition, the physician would ride in the ambulance with them.”

Mitchell claims that because physicians in the past five years screened patients for essential ambulance transfers that “many unnecessary ambulance runs have been eliminated, thus preventing burnout of ambulance personnel and unnecessary costs to the person and the town.”

She ended her letter by suggesting that physician dispatching could be restored by having the town return to the former municipally operated system, arranging for local dispatching through an independent contractor, negotiating with the county to include physician dispatching in its contract with the town, or arranging a contract with an independent dispatcher, such as Com Net in Brewer.

Glen Greenhalgh, who also supports a return to town dispatching, said before the meeting that a petition drive is being considered and could be initiated to force reconsideration of the issue at a special town meeting.

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