MACHIAS, Maine — Machias town officials and administrators with Down East Community Hospital recently were able to work out concerns over the volunteer Fire Department being called out to help lift heavy patients.
At the Jan. 13 selectmen’s meeting, fire Chief Joey Dennison asked whether the department could begin charging for providing lift assists to the hospital and to the Marshall Healthcare Facility.
Dennison said both organizations, which are not taxpayers, call the Fire Department to assist with lifting heavy patients because they don’t have enough people on staff or the right equipment to do it themselves. The department doesn’t have any special equipment for this purpose, either. It relies on the strength of the volunteer firefighters to pick up and move those patients.
Some of the larger patients, for which lift assists are requested, weigh 500 to 600 pounds, said Lois Libbey, director of the Machias Ambulance Service, which also handles lift assists.
Dennison said that the hospital called the Fire Department for lift assists 12 times between Jan. 1, 2015, and Jan. 10, 2016.
While Down East Community Hospital spokesperson Julie Hixon later confirmed that hospital staffers had requested assists from the Fire Department about eight times since the summer, she indicated they probably should not have.
“This process started when a lift assist was considered necessary by a nursing supervisor, and from there, it was then considered to be a routine option for nursing staff,” Hixon said.
“Requesting the Fire Department to perform a lift assist at [Down East Community Hospital] is not a necessary option as we have all the necessary staff and equipment to perform safe lifting. Management has re-established with nursing staff our desired process for lift assist, and the Fire Department will not be contacted unless there is some unforeseen circumstance that warrants it.”
Debra Murphy, administrator of the Marshall Healthcare Facility, confirmed on Jan. 18 that her facility does not have equipment for lifting people who weigh more than 350 pounds.
However, she said the facility has called firefighters only twice in four years for a lift assist. One call involved bringing a patient from a private home to the nursing home and the other involved taking a nursing home patient to the hospital.
Dennison told councilors on Jan. 13 that he did not feel it was the responsibility of firefighters to lift heavy patients at health care facilities.
”My concern is sending volunteer firemen to a place where they have paid trained staff,” said Dennison.
The selectmen agreed.
“The hospital is responsible for those people and should have adequate staff to handle them,” said Selectmen Joshua Rolfe.
Selectmen F. James Whalen pointed out that the firefighters are volunteers, unlike paid staff at hospitals and nursing homes. They can’t afford to risk injury as volunteers.
“That impacts their livelihood,” he said.
A firefighter was injured a few years ago while doing a lift assist, said Dennison, but there have been no recent injuries related to such calls.
Aubry “Skip” Carter, chairman of the selectmen, suggested meeting with hospital administrators to discuss the issue.
Town Manager Christina Therrien said Jan. 21 that she contacted the hospital and learned administrators had been unaware of the problem and would address the issue with staff.
Since they didn’t expect additional calls for lift assists, town officials and firefighters would no longer pursue charging a fee for them, the town manager said.
“We are satisfied,” Therrien said.