Aroostook County Gains FEMA Ambulance & Staff
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has loaned an ambulance and crew to Aroostook County to serve all four County Hospitals, Northern Maine Medical Center, Cary Medical Center, Northern Light AR Gould and Houlton Regional Hospital, during the surging COVID 19 Pandemic. The unit, which will be based at Cary Medical Center in Caribou, arrived on Thursday, January 27th, and will be in the County through February 28th. Kris Doody, RN and CEO for Cary Medical Center and Pines Health Services praised the development and said that it is critically important for FEMA and other State and Federal Agencies to keep Aroostook County in mind during times of crisis.
“We are very grateful to FEMA and our state for making this ambulance unit and staff available to the County”, said Doody. “The pandemic has presented great challenges to all healthcare providers and other public health and social agencies for more than two years. Collectively, Aroostook County deserves the same level of resources to deal with such crisis. Given the extreme rural nature of our County and the great distance to tertiary care, and centrally located resources in the State, it is absolutely critical that Aroostook is given some priority when it comes to making additional resources available”.
The loaned FEMA ambulance and crew will not replace any of the existing services in the County but will be a complement to them.
“Our EMS services throughout the County have been very dedicated and on the front lines of this COVID pandemic”, said Doody. “We are very thankful for all of their efforts”.
Shawn Anderson, CEO at the Houlton Regional Hospital, was a key player in making the FEMA ambulance unit possible. While not a part of the original distribution of eight additional ambulance units and staff, Anderson said that by working regionally it became possible for the County to benefit.
“The original guidelines”, said Anderson, ‘specified that only hospitals with a daily average of ten COVID inpatients would be eligible for the FEMA ambulance loan. No single County hospital could meet that benchmark. We then thought of regionalizing our initiative and by doing so we could demonstrate that the combined hospitals would meet the 10 inpatient requirement. Once we were able to do that we submitted our ‘regional’ request on Wednesday January 19th and received a verbal approval the very next day.”
The loaned FEMA ambulance and crew, will assist hospitals in the County with patient transport. The current status of rural ambulance service in the County is in crisis in terms of staffing and has been challenged to meet the demands brought on by the COVID 19 pandemic while meeting the normal emergency response in the region. The vast geography of Aroostook County, a rapidly aging population, high rates of chronic illness puts an enormous strain on the rural EMS system. Shawn Anderson said that he was grateful to Maine Emergency Management Agency and Department of Health and Human Services for making the additional ambulance and crew available.
“I want to thank Kristen McCauley and the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who got behind our request earlier this month”, said Anderson. “Their efforts combined with the regional approach of the four County hospitals made all of this possible”.
Kristen McAuley, MPH, is Director of Public Health Planning for the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services.
A large contingency of Cary Medical Center staff local EMS personnel greeted the FEMA ambulance and crew when it arrived at Cary Medical Center on Thursday morning at 8 am. The ambulance and crew will visit other County Hospitals in the coming days.