The commission recommended Maine set aside $70 million annually for the next five years to cover a shortfall in funding for emergency medical services.
In this Sept. 16, 2019, file photo, ambulances travel from the scene of an explosion in Farmington. Credit: Rich Abrahamson / Waterville Morning Sentinel via AP

A legislative commission is recommending that Maine set aside $70 million annually for the next five years to cover a shortfall in funding for emergency medical services.

The panel said nearly a third of those funds should be dedicated toward EMS services at immediate risk of failing due to a lack of funding and few volunteers.

Richard Petrie, a paramedic and commission member, said the panel should be prepared to fight for more EMS funding in the upcoming legislative session.

“We’ve always been about in EMS quietly just going about our job, no matter the toll it took,” he said Monday during the commission’s final meeting. “We need to stop that.”

Medicare and Medicaid cover much of the cost of providing EMS services, according to a draft of the panel’s final report. But the commission said those reimbursements are falling short, and any increase in federal rates is likely five years away.

At the same time, the commission said the state’s emergency medical system is also on the brink of a workforce crisis.

The system now depends upon an underpaid and volunteer workforce, particularly in rural parts of Maine, but volunteerism is decreasing, the commission said.

“We’re in a whole new world,” said state Sen. Chip Curry, D-Waldo. “You may remember EMS from 10, 15, 20 years ago, but it’s different now.”

The panel also recommended that the state collaborate with the university and community college systems to develop better EMS training programs, and it suggested that the Legislature consider providing staff of nonmunicipal and nonprofit EMS services access to state health care and retirement benefits.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.