The Winterport Ambulance Ad Hoc Committee issued a report to town councilors with its recommendations about how the town should continue to seek and fund ambulance services. Currently, the town contracts with the Winterport Volunteer Ambulance Service, which is run by an association. Town Council voted to hold the first of two public meetings on the recommendations May 4.

A sharp decrease in volunteers has forced the service to start paying members, which is largely responsible for its deficit.

At Winterport’s 2020 town meeting, residents voted to create an ad hoc ambulance committee to review services performed by Winterport Ambulance after the department requested more than the usual $30,000 the town gives it at the annual meeting.

The committee looked at the service's finances, operations and equipment status, and gathered information about costs and other facts from area services to look at possible alternatives for ambulance service in the town.

The committee recommended the town fund the ambulance department’s monetary shortfall every year, which is $81,000 this year, according to committee Chairman Kevin Kelley. It could cost as much as $500,000 to contract a private ambulance service, he said, with the cost increasing yearly.

If the reimbursement model does not work after a few years, it might be beneficial to consider making the service a municipal department, he said.

The goal of an ambulance department is to have its costs break even with its revenues. Right now, Winterport Ambulance’s revenue is falling short every year because the lack of volunteers is driving up payroll costs, Kelley said.

The department was established in 1972 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to raise funds for the town Fire Department and to provide an ambulance service. It was operated entirely by volunteers until 2012, according to the report.

Many of the Ambulance Service's volunteers are aging and will need to be replaced by paid per-diem or part-time staff, the report found. It is expected to increase the budget deficit from $80,000 in 2020 to $249,000 in 2021.

Most of the department’s revenue comes from patients or their insurers, the report states. However, many insurance companies only pay a portion of the bill, so the department does not get fully reimbursed for many of the calls it takes.

Usually the patient is billed for whatever their insurance does not cover, unless they have MaineCare, in which case the remainder of those bills just gets written off, according to the report.

“The two curves are going in the opposite directions, and trying to get those back in sync a little bit is the reason they are having that shortfall,” Kelley said.

It takes about 1,500 ambulance runs for a department to break even on its expenses, and Winterport Ambulance averages close to 500 runs per year covering Winterport and Frankfort, he said. The service had about $169,000 in its reserves as of December 2020, but there are some equipment and maintenance expenses coming up that could eat away much of that reserve.

There will be two public meetings on the committee’s findings, as decided at last year’s town meeting. The first public meeting will be May 4 at 6 p.m. on Zoom. The second meeting will be May 18 at 6 p.m., but it has not yet been decided if it will be a Zoom meeting or in person.