Jackman Community Health Center. Credit: Courtesy of Penobscot Community Health Care

A new program for paramedics will expand much-needed health care services for rural Maine towns, where lack of funding has forced many clinics to cut staff hours.

That comes as Jackman is fighting to retain critical emergency services at a time when many Maine towns face tough questions as cash-strapped rural hospitals struggle to stay alive.

The paramedic program would provide 24/7 access to critical care services, filling the gaps in health care services that Jackman Community Health Center isn’t able to provide, according to News Center Maine.

Jackman has had a hard time recruiting full-time medical staff since 2017, when MaineGeneral Health closed the 18-bed nursing home facility and stopped providing urgent care services. The town scraped together enough staff to continue to provide weekday services, but relies on on-call staff to meet after-hours community needs.

The stress of on-call responsibilities has worn down staff and discouraged potential medical assistants and physicians.

Jackman Community Health Center is the only health care facility in the area, and serves around 1,000 people. Those seeking treatment for severe medical emergencies often have to drive at least 50 miles to reach a specialized care facility.

The town has had success in a partnership with the North East Mobile Health Services of Scarborough. The Maine-based company provides paramedic-level 911 response and interfacility transports. Its paramedics are equipped with telehealth services that allow them to virtually meet with staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital of Bangor to consult on patient treatment and prepare patients for transport to a hospital.

Building on the success of that partnership, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Eastern Maine Community College have designed a program to train paramedics in critical emergency care skills. Paramedics will be trained to conduct ultrasounds for diagnostics, wound care, casting, splinting, advanced assessment skills and critical airway management skills, News Center Maine reported.

Paramedics would also be equipped with iPads and iPhones to contact the emergency department at St. Joseph’s Hospital for telehealth services.

Once paramedics complete the training, the health center anticipates using them to provide the 24/7 care that Jackman needs by September.

The project is made possible by a $1.2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Jackman residents will see, at most, a 1 percent increase in their taxes as additional funding for this program, according to News Center Maine.

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.