Rural Communities Could See EMS Cuts

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Rural communities along the northern New Hampshire-Vermont border could see their ambulance coverage cut in half.

Faced with a dramatic drop in revenue, 45th Parallel EMS may limit daytime service to a single ambulance, as they struggle to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are literally covering an area the size of the state of Rhode Island with four ambulances total. Two are staffed at any time, and I’m looking at within the next couple of weeks having to cut one,” said CEO Nathan Borland.

In a roundtable discussion with N.H. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on Wednesday, Borland said the private, non-profit ambulance service will lose around $144,000 in April and May.

That amount exceeds his monthly payroll, he said.

Those losses are directly related to COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders that have wiped out tourism — and the ambulance trips those visitors generate.

To compensate, 45th Parallel has already cut overnight staffing to one ambulance, down from two. Now they may cut daytime staffing as well.

“We were very heavily dependent on tourists coming in,” said Borland. “We’ve been very hard hit economically with the lack of call volume now because everybody’s gone home.”

The downturn has been tough for 45th Parallel’s employees — 14 full time EMTs, one full time administrator, and six part time emergency medical responders — who were wrapping up an extremely busy winter when the pandemic struck.

Full time employees already had their hours cut 25 percent, and they could be cut further if revenues don’t pick up.

“We were coming off of our best February ever. We had thousands of snowmobilers up here and we were busy, busy, busy,” Borland said. “Now we’re sitting around doing absolutely nothing because nothing is happening up here economically. So we’re at the point where, funding-wise, we’re in serious trouble.”

To continue serving the most rural areas of the Twin States — Averill, Beecher Falls, Canaan, Ferdinand, Lemington, Norton and the Gores in Vermont and Columbia, Colebrook, Dixville, Millsfield, Pittsburg and Stewartstown in New Hampshire — 45th Parallel will need help, Borland said.

On Wednesday, he told Shaheen that 45th Parallel had received $32,000 through the federal CARES Act, but added “that will be used up with our next payroll [period] and then we’re looking at dipping into a line of credit for paying people.”

BUDGET BACKFILL: Communities may look to cut emergency services next year to offset coronavirus-related losses.

That was the concern raised by Bill McQuillin, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, during Wednesday’s call with Shaheen.

“I know our concern is looking out a year from now, to the next fiscal year and beyond,” he said. “What we’re fearful of [is that] local municipalities will make up for lost revenue through service cuts.”

For now, towns cannot use relief money to backfill budgets.

That could change with the next federal aid package, which was recently approved by the House and sent to the Senate.

Shaheen said a portion of CARES Act funding was intended to address municipal budgets, but that the Secretary of the Treasury issued guidance that “refused to allow [those funds] to be used for backfilling those budgets.”

“I’m hopeful what we do in this next package will be much more flexible and allow state and local governments to use dollars the way they need to,” she said.

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