Hermon Volunteer Rescue & First Aid Squad INC. on Billings Road is pictured in this 2021 file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The sister of a Princeton man who died of a drug overdose in 2021 has filed a wrongful death claim alleging that a member of the nonprofit ambulance service that serves Hermon provided substandard care and failed to administer an overdose-reversing drug that could have saved his life.

The claim has prompted Hermon’s Town Council to rethink the town’s contract with the Hermon Volunteer Rescue & First Aid Squad Inc., according to Council Chair Steven Thomas.

Tyson MacArthur, 34, died Sept. 4, 2021, at his sister’s home in Hermon of acute fentanyl intoxication, the claim said.

Veronica MacArthur, 29, of Hermon filed the claim against the ambulance service; the town of Hermon, which funds the squad; and Clarence J. Merchant II, 47, of Hampden, a former emergency medical technician for the Hermon rescue service.

A notice of claim is the first step in the filing of a lawsuit. The claim from Veronica MacArthur is dated Nov. 29 of last year.

She is seeking $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages and an undisclosed amount for Merchant’s alleged falsification of the call record.

Merchant is a former EMT who attended to MacArthur the day he died. The ex-EMT agreed in October 2022 to surrender his license and never reapply to be an EMT after the state Board of Emergency Medical Services found that he acted negligently in caring for Tyson MacArthur and lied about how long EMTs administered CPR to him.

His consent agreement with the board was included with the notice of claim. It said that Merchant and others were called to a Hermon apartment for a patient in cardiac arrest. Merchant allegedly directed another EMT to stop performing CPR on Merchant after four to six minutes. Maine EMS protocol requires that chest compressions continue for 20 minutes, according to the agreement.

In the report of the incident, Merchant made conflicting statements. He said that Tyson MacArthur was dead when EMTs arrived and that no resuscitation was attempted, but also that CPR was administered for 18 minutes. Those statements were false, according to the consent agreement.

Merchant also did not notify the board in 2016 as he was required to when he was convicted of criminal charges, the agreement said. In addition, the board found that he lied again in 2018 and 2021 about the convictions when he applied to renew his license.

In July 2016, Merchant was convicted in Penobscot County of three counts of theft by deception, one count of attempted theft by deception and one count of making or aiding a false tax return, according to the agreement. He was sentenced to a year in jail with all but 45 days suspended and agreed to pay $43,506 in restitution to Maine Revenue Services.

He was required to report the convictions to the board within 10 days but did not.

“Mr. Merchant has not been sufficiently rehabilitated from his convictions to warrant the public trust,” the board concluded.

G. Stephen Watson, the head of the rescue squad’s board of directors and a Hermon town councilor, said Tuesday that this is the first time the squad has been sent a notice of claim since its founding in 1968, but he declined to comment on the allegations in the notice of claim.

Thomas, the council chair, said Wednesday that the council “appreciates the efforts of the dedicated employees who provide 24/7 coverage to assist Hermon residents in some of their darkest hours.”

However, the town is considering changes to its contract with the service as a result of Veronica MacArthur’s claim, Thomas said. The town signed a 10-year contract with the squad to provide ambulance services to the town in 2015.

Town councilors took a small step last week toward changing that contract. They didn’t change the contract but passed a resolution to amend it by requiring three months to terminate it instead of the six specified in the contract.  

All councilors supported the resolution but Watson, who abstained from voting due to his position on the rescue squad board. He also regularly works shifts for the service.

Thomas said the contract change would allow the town “to implement new service requirements, if warranted, or go in a different direction, all with the goal of securing adequate emergency medical services for our fast-growing community.  

“We expect to have an acceptable resolution as soon as possible,” he said.

Veronica MacArthur’s attorney, Owen Pickus of Kennebunk, said that Hermon residents deserved better care than that provided to Tyson MacArthur.

“We will during the course of this litigation make clear why such a lack of proper treatment cannot and will not ever again be tolerated,” Pickus said. “I look forward to a just and fair conclusion to this case not only for my clients but for all the people of Maine that rely each day on the hardworking men and women of the EMS services throughout the state.”

Merchant did not immediately respond to requests for comments on Wednesday.

If the town doesn’t renew its contract with Hermon Volunteer Rescue, it could contract with a different ambulance service or merge the rescue squad with the town’s fire department.

The town budgeted $210,000 annually for the organization from July 1, 2019, though June 30, 2022, after several years without providing the service with a subsidy. This year, the town increased funding to nearly $300,000.

Discussions over merging the nonprofit ambulance service with the fire department have taken place periodically over the past three decades.

In 2011, the council voted to incorporate emergency medical services under the town fire department. But councilors and squad members later hammered out their differences with the help of a facilitator after residents made it clear they favored keeping the independent ambulance service.

During the annual town meeting in June 2011, residents voted to remove contingency funding for an ambulance service within the fire department.

The council is scheduled to discuss MacArthur’s claim in executive session at the end of its regular monthly meeting Thursday.