St. Andrews

Missing Ambulance arithmetic

Posted:  Monday, October 22, 2012 - 2:15pm

Dear Editor:

Lincoln County Healthcare decided to close St. Andrews without knowing how much the closing would raise the cost of ambulance services.

At a meeting of the St. Andrews Hospital Task Force, the Ambulance Service reported that closing the hospital would increase their operations costs every year by an unknown total somewhere above the $300,000 they had so far identified in their hasty response to news of the closing, plus increased capital expenses not yet calculated. 

I asked Lincoln County Healthcare from the floor whether in closing the hospital they had assumed zero cost for additional ambulance service, or had Lincoln County Healthcare assumed a cost not released publicly.  The representative present stated that Lincoln County Healthcare had of course assumed increased ambulance cost, and though not available then, that cost would be obtained and reported to the Task Force. 

At a Task Force meeting two weeks later, Lincoln County Healthcare said they were still waiting for the Ambulance Service to provide a final number for its increased costs. 

This was not reported by the Boothbay Register, but it strikes me that it should have been.  The Register’s story on that meeting was headlined, “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back.” The “Step Back” was an animated discussion surrounding ambulance cost. Indeed, some people vented their anger at Lincoln County Healthcare and Trustee insensitivity, but calling that a step back is an editorial opinion, not a news report of the facts. 

The headline should have been “St. Andrews Closing Decided Without Cost Data From Ambulance Service.”  We still don’t know what assumed cost Lincoln County Healthcare used, despite asking for it, being promised it, and asking for it again. Isn’t the non-answer itself newsworthy? 

The Register could dig out more of the St. Andrews story, maybe report the ambulance cost increase Lincoln County Healthcare assumed and what it covered: all costs incurred by the Ambulance Service including its increased operating costs each year, or a smaller non-recurring cash transfer from Lincoln County Healthcare, just enough to keep everyone quiet?  

It’s disturbing to see the Boothbay Register failing to report significant news about the Boothbay Region’s most important story of 2012, the grassroots effort to keep St. Andrews Hospital open.  The Register should beware of becoming a megaphone for the well-oiled PR machine of Lincoln County Healthcare, who wants to close St. Andrews for mysterious reasons.  “To improve care” or “to make care financially viable” make sense only by ignoring ambulances – and arithmetic.

Tom Hagan

Editor's note: The Boothbay Region Ambulance Service has projected a $300,000 increase in its annual budget due to the ER closure, not $500,000 as this letter states.