AUGUSTA — Sen. Chip Curry, D-Belfast, introduced a bill Feb. 2 that would help support EMS departments across the state.

The bill, LD 1859, “An Act To Build More Sustainable Ambulance Services in Communities,” was the subject of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. Curry introduced an amendment that would change the title of the bill to “An Act to Establish the Maine Emergency Medical Services Community Grant Program.”

“For years, due to the stewardship, dedication and sacrifice of our local EMS leaders, most of us have no idea of the fragility of our system until it’s at the breaking point,” Curry said in a press release. “We need to turn the tide now before the entire system breaks. Too often, we’re having frustrating, hard conversations after a town is left scrambling when an EMS service is facing closure. This legislation aims to get ahead of that and help towns and emergency medical services understand their risks and long-term sustainability for the services they want and need.”

Sen. Joseph Rafferty, D-York, who co-sponsored the bill, said, “Services vary, but the volunteer fire and EMS systems of the past do not meet the demands of today’s world. The details around inconsistencies in rates, payment recovery, and public vs. private systems are only a few of the problems I’ve heard of. We need to assist communities to adapt before the system we have collapses.”

As it currently stands, of the 272 EMS departments in Maine, fewer than 70 are paid and full-time, according to the press release. Part of the problem is a workforce shortage. According to Maine EMS, Maine has lost nearly 1,500 EMTs and paramedics since 2013, which is over 20% of that workforce. Simultaneously, the average number of calls each year continues to rise, with over 22,000 in 2021.

LD 1859, as amended, would define a process for communities to engage in reflective strategic planning to consider models to provide emergency medical services, the press release said. This could be engaging in private-public partnerships; evaluating the current level and financial health of emergency medical services; identifying the issues in the community that challenges EMS; developing options for long-term financial stability and extensive service, and engaging with the community in reviewing the information collected to create a long-term plan for the stability of their local EMS service.

Sam Hurley, director of Maine Emergency Medical Services, in testimony supporting LD 1859 said, “Maine EMS has testified multiple times in front of this committee regarding the importance of communities conducting a needs-based assessment prior to creating an emergency medical services agency. We believe that this bill is a great first step in empowering communities to engage in informed community self-determination.”

Jay Bradshaw, executive director of the Maine Ambulance Association, said, “The amended bill before you will make significant strides in helping struggling municipalities develop a plan that meets the emergency needs of those communities without putting an excessive (and often surprising) burden on taxpayers.”

The bill faces further action in committee.