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North Dakota Aims to Tackle EMS Volunteer Shortage

Like much of the country, North Dakota's emergency ambulance system is facing staffing and funding shortages. (iStockphoto)
Like much of the country, North Dakota's emergency ambulance system is facing staffing and funding shortages. (iStockphoto)
April 11, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. – Emergency ambulance services across the country are facing serious staffing shortages, but some health care groups in North Dakota are trying to take the lead on the issue.

According to the state's EMS Association, most of those services rely on trained volunteer emergency responders and a combination of grants and state and local tax dollars to operate.

With a declining pool of volunteers and fewer available dollars for equipment and training, Association President Curt Halmrast says the state's EMS system is holding a series of meetings with local officials, including one in Bismarck Tuesday, to talk about possible solutions.

"As a state, no one has the magic solution, and so we're just looking for different ideas,” he says. “The easy fix is just to pay everybody, but there's not the funding there to do it, nor are there the people."

Halmrast says if the state were to pay for two EMS responders on every ambulance, it would cost about $30 million.

With at least four North Dakota ambulance services having closed in recent years, the association says the volunteer model may no longer be sustainable.

Currently, out of North Dakota's 128 ambulance services, 17 are at risk of closing. If more EMS providers do close up shop, Halmrast says longer wait times could create dangerous health risks, especially in rural parts of the state.

"If you're having to wait longer in some of those time-sensitive conditions – like somebody having a heart attack, somebody having a stroke – time is of the essence, so you don't want to wait," he points out.

Halmrast says one possible solution is to set up local quick-response units in areas where ambulance services are shuttered, or would simply be too far away to be effective.

In all, the EMS Association and the American Heart Association are holding eight meetings across the state now through July.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND