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EMS Week Highlights Volunteer Shortage in North Dakota

North Dakota needs more volunteers to help with Emergency Medical Services teams, particularly in rural areas. (iStockphoto)
North Dakota needs more volunteers to help with Emergency Medical Services teams, particularly in rural areas. (iStockphoto)
May 16, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. – It's Emergency Medical Services Week in North Dakota, and state officials are using it to call attention to the importance of the state's emergency responders – and the fact that there aren't enough of them.

Many emergency services, especially in rural parts of the state, rely on trained volunteers. But North Dakota's EMS Association says it faces a declining pool of volunteers.

Tom Nehring, director of the Division of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) at the North Dakota Department of Health, says several factors are contributing to the shortage, including an aging volunteer workforce.

"Many of those people who have been on ambulance services over the past 40 years have now gotten to the age where they no longer can handle the rigors of ambulance calls,” he explains. “And often, there is no one to take their place."

Nehring says the EMS Division has been working over the past few years to make changes that he hopes will attract more volunteers, including better training for ambulance service managers.

Another complication is that more people are leaving the state's smaller, rural communities.

Nehring says the Division of Emergency Medical Services will be holding community hearings through mid-July to talk about other ways to bolster the state's EMS system.

Some suggestions include creating what Nehring calls a tiered system.

"It may be first responders, it may be quick-response units, it may be ambulance services,” he explains. “How can we put an efficient, effective system together that gets someone to the site of the patient as quickly as possible, with appropriate transportation?"

This comes as at least four of North Dakota's nearly 130 ambulance services have closed in recent years. Nehring says with another 17 on the brink of closing, the current model for the state's EMS system is no longer sustainable.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND