Camden First Aid Association faces funding emergency
Camden — The ambulance company that provides service to Camden, Rockport, Hope and Lincolnville is facing an emergency of its own.
Camden First Aid Association is calling for donations from community members to assist in stabilizing the organization's finances, according to a Nov. 22 letter from CFAA Board Chairman Steve Corson.
CFAA is a private, nonprofit ambulance service that receives funding from the communities of Camden, Rockport, Hope and Lincolnville but, according to Corson, those funds only make up a small percentage — 6.7 percent — of the organization's costs. Corson added Medicare is billed for at least 60 percent of CFAA calls, but only pays a percentage of what is billed. Same goes for MaineCare, according to Corson's letter.
Ambulance calls that are paid in full by patient insurance make up about 18 percent of CFAA's calls, he stated, adding the average cost of a "local ambulance run" is $420. He explained the figure was obtained by dividing the annual operating cost of CFAA by the number of response calls, or times an ambulance leaves the building in a one-year period.
Corson wrote that CFAA "direct billing to the patient can sometimes be a collection issue."
Corson stated in his letter that two years ago CFAA was "teetering on the edge of bankruptcy," but the formation of a new board of directors, "generous donations" and leadership changes have since served to sustain the CFAA. However, according to Corson, the organization is still not in "stable health" financially.
The changes in leadership during the past two years include the appointment of a new service chief. CFAA Assistant Service Chief Julia Libby was appointed to the service chief position after the organization's former service chief Chris Knight was terminated from the position on March 1, 2011, according to previously published reports.
Knight came under fire after cash flow issues prompted the association to divert 403b benefits payments for more than nine months, according to previously published reports.
In October 2010, Knight said contributions to the retirement plan administered by Valic, a subsidiary of insurance giant AIG, were deducted from weekly payroll. He said somewhere between $6,000 and $8,000 was not sent to Valic during the course of approximately a year, according to previously published reports.
The money was used to pay for company insurance and fuel bills during that period, Knight said in 2011. The issue was resolved and the employees were reimbursed, according to a previously published report. Cash flow issues, however, have persisted.
Corson wrote that if each resident served by CFAA set aside $20 to donate to the organization, CFAA could "create a temporary safety net" with those funds.
CFAA presently serves approximately 11,160 year-round residents in four towns, according to Corson. In 2012 CFAA received $20,000 from Camden, $24,000 from Rockport, $2,000 from Hope and $10,000 from Lincolnville, toward its yearly operating budget of around $900,000, Libby said Nov. 26. She said CFAA has so far received $47,229 in donations during fiscal year 2012. In 2011 the organization received more than $75,000 in gifts.
Libby said CFAA employees 10 full-time staff with pay rates averaging around $19 an hour. The organization offers 24-hour service and Libby said there typically is a pair of two-person crews on call during the day and a single crew on call each night. CFAA must meet a weekly payroll of $10,000, said Libby.
Libby explained that CFAA has been working with town managers in the four communities served by the organization since September. She said she hopes discussions will result in some additional funding from the towns going forward.
"I got the feeling that they're willing to work with us," she said.
Libby said transfers of patients between healthcare facilities help offset costs and require CFAA personnel to travel out of town. She explained the transfers have no negative impact on ambulance service to the towns, as there are always ambulances and crews available to handle any emergency that arises while a transfer is taking place, occupying one of the organization's four ambulances.
"All the money we get [from transfers] benefits the towns," Libby explained, adding funds brought in by transfers offset funding requests made to towns.
Libby said ambulances are recommended for replacement every four years and said CFAA presently has one ambulance in need of replacing. CFAA has four ambulances; the newest is a model year 2004, she said.
Donations to Camden First Aid Association can be mailed to Camden First Aid Association Attn: Julia Libby, Service Chief, at P.O. Box 368 Camden, ME 04843.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.