EMS agency in rural Iowa in crisis mode - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

EMS agency in rural Iowa in crisis mode

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Volunteer EMS crews in rural Iowa fear they may no longer be able to provide life-saving medical care to their community. With growing wait times for those in crisis, concerned volunteers say something needs to change for those critical moments. 

"It puts a lot of people in danger, and it won't be long, unless something changes, it won't be long before you call 911 and you may not hear anyone coming to help you. It could be 20 to 25 minutes until the service comes to your aid."

Some EMS or emergency medical service crews are calling on both local and state level to fix this deep-rooted issue. 

President of Bremer County EMS  Jim Schutte says this isn't a new problem, but has been getting progressively worse with time. 

"We cannot maintain the number of volunteers we need in the community," said Schutte. "It takes a lot of commitment and training and personal dollars that are put towards the initial training by the individual. And then they are away from their families during holidays, during their kids basketball games. A call can come in at any time."

Schutte says this isn't a problem just specific to Bremer County, it's one he's heard from multiple volunteer EMS agencies statewide. 

Bremer County Emergency Management Coordinator and President of Tripoli EMS Kip Ladage explains it's a three-fold issue.

"Iowa code has to state EMS is an essential service," said Ladage. "And once EMS is considered an essential service we need funding."

Currently volunteer EMS agencies like Tripoli operate solely on donations and fundraisers. Ladage says they have the equipment and necessary means to provide the care, but maintaining the devices come at a cost. 

"The other thing that would help would be more volunteers stepping up and say hey, we're willing to be apart of this, we don't want to see the EMS system fail," said Ladage. We're willing to step up and start volunteering."

Lastly, Ladage says the slim-to-nothing reimbursement for their services only fuels the fire. 

"A third issue that we've got that affects some services is the reimbursement that we were getting from Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance companies," said Ladage. "We may have a call billable for $600, and we may see $113 response from Medicaid. As soon as the garage door opens and the ambulance starts to roll out, we start losing money, we can't continue to operate that way."    

Volunteer agencies like Tripoli say they can't continue to operate under strained resources.  

"Most people- until it affects them personally, don't really care," said Schutte. "Until it affects them personally and the system fails, and they see that someone dies because you can't get to them, that's when they'll stand up and take notice."

The question then for Iowans, becomes how much are you willing to pay for help?

"The biggest benefit that volunteer services have is the hours that we donate," said Ladage. We're donating the time, nobody's having to pay for wages, benefits, health insurance, it's all donated time. If the city's have to start making up that difference, from volunteer to paid, they're going to see it come up in taxes, or however the city's or the governing body decides to make up the difference, or you're going to see those ambulance services go away.

EMS agencies in rural Iowa are in need of volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering, reach out to your local EMS agency. 

For more information, reach out to Bremer County Emergency Management Kip Ladage

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