April 21, 2024

County’s EMS calls for community support

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Jake Sias
Grant County Herald

“Did you know that EMS is not considered an essential service in the state of Minnesota?” asked Arik Risbrudt from Lake Region Hospital at the commissioners meeting on Tuesday. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Greater Minnesota, specifically within Grant County, faces significant challenges as they rely entirely on volunteers for operations. Amid increasing demands and a dwindling pool of volunteers, local EMS officials have sought financial assistance from county leaders.

“People will die if we lose ambulance services to lack of funding,” he stated. Risbrudt approached the Grant County commissioners and the Grant County Township Association on Tuesday to request support. He noted discrepancy between public expectations for EMS availability and the state’s classification of EMS as a non-essential service, unlike fire or law enforcement services.

This request stems from several critical issues facing the county’s EMS operations. Notably, Grant County is experiencing an aging population, leading to an increased demand for emergency medical services. Comparing figures from the past, the ambulance operating from Lake Region Hospital responded to 220 calls in 2015. This figure nearly doubled to 392 calls in 2023. Collectively, Lake Region, Ashby, and Hoffman ambulance services managed a total of 802 runs in 2023, averaging 2.2 calls per day. Specifically, within Grant County, these services fielded 528 calls, amounting to an average of 1.4 calls per day.

The volunteer workforce, essential to the operation of these services, is itself aging, with many members retiring. Additionally, there is a notable lack of younger volunteers stepping in to replace them. Although some younger individuals have volunteered, retention rates are low, with many citing burnout as a reason for discontinuing service after three to five years.

The state has already created a task force that met in January, in Elbow Lake, to discuss the needs of the communities of rural Minnesota. This has resulted in a bill that is requesting $120 million dollars as a one time payment to help buoy up floundering EMS providers, but members of the EMS believe this is not the long-term strategy they were hoping for and many have doubts it will pass at all. 

Rather than waiting for a state-funded solution, Lake Region Hospital has focused on local progress and proposed a plan requesting $200,000 in annual funding from the county. The proposed budget allocation includes $100,000 for the purchase and maintenance of EMS vehicles and another $100,000 to establish a defined benefit pension plan for volunteers, akin to the plan available to firefighters. They say they hope that providing an incentive to volunteers to stick around for ten years with the pension plan might alleviate some of the retention problems the county is currently facing. 

To fund a plan such as this, it would cost as a homeowner with a home worth $150,000 a total of $13.77 annually, a homeowner with a home of $300,000 would pay $27.54 annually, and agricultural acreages would pay $0.23 per acre. 

When asked about how imminent EMS closures may be, Risbrudt stated, “Hoffman has six months to a year before it’s gone.”

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