A legal challenge filed on behalf of Mainers who lost their jobs as a result of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate could determine whether the Maine Emergency Medical Services (Maine EMS) had the authority to implement such a mandate.
Health Choice Maine (HCM), a non-profit group that advocates for medical freedom, is the driving force behind the decision to challenge the mandate. The case has 18 named plaintiffs, as well as classes of John and Jane Does.
“The question we posed to the court is whether the agency had the authority to do this,” said Terry Mitrenga, the attorney representing HCM.
“The crux of our case is that this was done by an agency aside from DHHS,” she said. “All of the other mandates have been done by DHHS.”
At this point, the Maine Attorney General’s Office has filed a series of procedural motions that have little to do with the substance of HCM’s argument against the mandate. But those procedural complaints could have the effect of running out the clock on the plaintiffs, so to speak.
“The state always in every type of case, whether they’re defending an agency or an individual, they always have the upper hand because they have substantial resources,” she said.
Assistant Attorney General Sarah E. Coleman is representing the state.
Resistance to the EMS mandate has exacerbated a serious shortage of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) in the state.
Corey Bonnevie, a 20-year veteran paramedic who has worked in western Maine for 15 years, said even before the mandate caused the EMT ranks to shrink, he had often found himself as the only ambulance servicing an area 1,500 square miles or more.
“There was a call that came in, and I was in Rangeley. Chest pain in Livermore Falls,” said Bonnevie.
“That’s a high level call. This is chest pain. You need to get there. When it comes to a heart attack or any heart problem, time is everything. On a good day, and really hauling, that’s an hour and a half, bare minimum, to get to someone who has dialed 9-1-1,” he said.
“This happened multiple times,” he said. “It wasn’t just me.”
All of that was before the mandate.
Bonnevie said he had a religious exemption for the flu vaccine and a medical exemption. A medical doctor provided him with the exemption after he had a serious adverse reaction to a flu immunization. But the company he worked for refused to accept his pre-existing medical and religious exemptions, he said.
So after 20 years serving as a first responder, he ended up jobless in the middle of the pandemic.
He lost his career, his wife, his home — even his band and his dog.
“Everything I had was essentially destroyed,” he said. “I was essentially homeless.”
Bonnevie isn’t the only one who thinks Maine’s emergency services are in crisis.
In January, Maine EMS released a blue ribbon commission report that came to a similar conclusion.
“EMS services in Maine are at the edge of a cliff, or over it, and changes must occur to ensure that when someone calls with a medical emergency, EMS services are able and ready to assist,” the report said.
The words “vaccine” and “mandate” do not appear in the report.
The plaintiffs on HCM’s case are seeking financial damages, and many say they’ve endured extreme economic hardship as the result of the mandate.
But the big outcome HCM wants is for towns to rehire emergency medical professionals who were fired, quit in response to the mandate, or otherwise lost their employment because of the mandate.
If HCM wins the case, the real winners just might be rural Mainers who would like to know that someday if they need to dial 9-1-1, help won’t be hours away.
Tiffany Kreck, HCM’s co-founder and director, joined WVOM’s George Hale and Ric Tyler radio show this morning to talk about the case.