July 17, 2024

$30M for EMS relief Grant County selected to run pilot program

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Jake Sias

Grant County Herald

The state legislature recently approved a $30 million aid package to support rural emergency medical services (EMS), with more than $4 million allocated to West Central Minnesota. This legislation, supported by a bipartisan group of legislators, includes $24 million in emergency aid for EMS providers focusing on services in Greater Minnesota and $6 million for a sprint medic pilot program in Otter Tail, Grant, and St. Louis counties.

Otter Tail County Commissioner Kurt Mortenson expressed gratitude for the bill, highlighting Senator Rasmusson’s leadership. “We are thankful for the passage of this bill and grateful for the leadership of Senator Rasmusson to address such a critical issue for the residents of Otter Tail County,” Mortenson stated.

A bipartisan EMS Task Force, including Sen. Rasmusson, conducted investigations throughout the interim to improve life-saving EMS services. This Task Force, created after a 2022 EMS report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA), held field hearings across the state. Sen. Rasmusson invited the Task Force to listen to constituents in Grant County. 

“Access to emergency medical services is crucial for Greater Minnesota, but providing these services in our rural areas is much more challenging,” said Sen. Rasmusson. He emphasized the importance of public feedback in forming the Senate’s EMS aid package.

The legislation, with a $24 million allocation for EMS providers in Greater Minnesota, uses a formula developed by Sen. Rasmusson to determine district-specific funding. Senators Judy Seeberger (DFL-Afton) and Grant Hauschild (DFL-Hermantown) also acknowledged Rasmusson’s contributions. Despite the state aid, Sen. Rasmusson noted that federal reimbursement rates remain insufficient to cover the total cost of rural EMS care.

“With the approval of this $30 million EMS aid package, we are extending a lifeline for this critical service,” Rasmusson said, highlighting the bill’s transparent and rural-focused funding approach.

The $6 million sprint medic pilot program will station trained medical staff as first responders in Otter Tail, Grant, and St. Louis counties. This initiative aims to improve response times and ensure appropriate care levels while reducing unnecessary ambulance calls.

Grant County Commissioner Bill LaValley commented during the county board meeting, that this is the time for the county to make the most of the aid package and feared that if the county failed to make an impact with the funds provided, future packages were not likely to follow. 

Rebecca Huebsch, Perham Area EMS Director, shared her excitement about the program. “The Sprint Medic model will provide geographic equity and rapid response by ensuring advanced life support coverage is distributed evenly across all service areas,” Huebsch stated.

Reforms within the bill also address rural EMS staffing concerns, simplifying the qualification and certification process for Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Emergency Medical Responders, and Ambulatory EMTs. Additionally, the legislation restructures the EMS Regulatory Board (EMSRB) following OLA’s findings of its ineffectiveness. Powers and duties of the EMSRB will transfer to a newly established Office of Emergency Medical Services.

The bill received unanimous Senate support and now awaits the governor’s signature.

Aric Risbrudt from Lake Region Hospital expressed mixed feelings. “I wish we had received more cash, but that’s how things go. I hope the pilot program goes well, but we all have different needs, and it’s going to be difficult to align everyone’s expectations.” He added that while Grant County’s current system mirrors the pilot program, additional paramedics dedicated to 911 coverage will enhance services. 

During the task force meeting in March,  Risbrudt highlighted the challenges faced by EMS in Grant County, relying entirely on volunteers amid increasing demand and a shrinking volunteer pool. He emphasized the critical need for financial assistance and a reclassification of EMS as an essential service. Local EMS services, particularly in aging populations, are under strain, with volunteer shortages exacerbating the problem.

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