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Fewer Volunteers, Lack Of Funding Mean Slower EMS Response Times

Northwest Iowa — A dwindling number of EMS volunteers and a lack of funding is causing a growing crisis in rural Iowa and beyond.

A little over a year ago, the Archer Ambulance Service disbanded, due to lack of volunteers after the director and two other volunteers resigned. The Sanborn Ambulance Squad has tried some unconventional tactics for recruiting volunteers.

In some areas, funding is also an issue.

At a statewide level, emergency medical services aren’t considered essential, like fire or police. Mark Sachen, president of the Iowa Emergency Medical Services Association, says three-fourths of local departments are volunteer-run. Because the service isn’t guaranteed by local or state funding, many get their money from billing patients or bake sales.


In the past five years, Iowa saw a four-percent decrease in the number of registered E-M-Ts. Fourteen counties are covered by just one ambulance service while Worth County has none for its 400 square miles. In Tripoli, director Kip Ladage has just a few E-M-Ts to cover 99 square miles in Bremer County. He notes staff shortages in neighboring areas create a domino effect.


Wright County supervisor Karl Helgevold says voters in 2018 overwhelmingly approved a property tax levy to make Wright County the first in the state to declare E-M-S services as essential. That raised a half-million dollars a year for training, equipment, and a countywide E-M-S coordinator. Helgevold feels it’s something the state needs to ensure.


One proposal in the Iowa legislature would make it easier to follow Wright County’s example. It would allow counties to set up partnerships and use existing local taxes to fund E-M-S without voter approval. Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, doesn’t think the service should be declared essential at the state level as it could impose a cookie-cutter set of requirements.


Kauffman is asking the state to appropriate about five-million dollars toward the state’s various E-M-S departments.

RadioIowa assisted with this story.

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