Posted 11/01/16 (Tue)
By Brad Nygaard
Divide County’s ambulance service needs to take a new step to provide the emergency coverage resident’s need.
That’s according to manager Ken Rensch, owner of Ambulance Resources, LLC, the company that’s been helping to staff the Divide County Ambulance District since February 2014. The company also provides service to districts covering Stanley and Parshall.
An EMT and a paramedic, both paid, rotate in and out of a two bedroom apartment rented in Crosby.
Rensch would like to see Divide County add a second paramedic -- another paid staff position -- but that doesn’t mean volunteers are not also needed. Actually, the need is quite critical -- especially for drivers and a second EMT.
“Even if we put an EMT on, it’s not going to do us any good if we have to send a paramedic and an EMT to Minot on a transfer, we’re still going to leave the service area here uncovered,” said Rensch.
Divide County is sitting pretty good with equipment, but, “we don’t have the personnel to cover a second ambulance the vast majority of the time.”
Grants have allowed the Divide County service to make important equipment updates and additions recently. A $7,900 grant from Agri-Bank allowed for the purchase of video laryngoscopes, along with Doppler ultrasound units.
Crosby and Stanley currently are the only two ambulance services in the state with ultrasound on board.
“We can ultrasound their abdomen, their chest, to see if there’s internal bleeding,” said Rensch.
Another $15,000 grant from Agri-Bank is being used to buy ventilators with CPAP and BIPAP capabilities. Those units can move from the ambulance into the hospital -- which is important since St. Luke’s Medical Center doesn’t have a ventilator of its own.
CPAP and BIPAP ventilators help people in respiratory distress.
“We can put them on CPAP or BIPAP and it facilitates them taking a deeper breath,” said Rensch. “We can administer a true 100 percent concentration of oxygen.”
For people with congestive heart failure or COPD, the equipment can quickly provide some relief.
“What this grant will do is allow us to take our current ventilator and trade it in. We’re hoping to get about $8,000 for it and get two new ventilators that will cost about an additional $7,000,” Rensch said.
While money for equipment is nice, Rensch said only a mill levy increase will allow for additional paid staff. First, the ambulance board will have to be sold on the need -- next, voters will have to approve such an increase. Rensch said Divide’s call volume justifies it.
Right now, the Divide County Ambulance Service is levying 5 mills, but state law allows a levy of up to 10 mills. It’s a long process to get such funding in place, however.
“If we start from scratch, get petitions submitted, get on a ballot, vote, now you’re looking at who knows how long to be able to do it,” he said, but the ball has to get rolling.
“Even if it has been approved, you’re still looking at a year to a year-and-a-half before you’re going to see that increase.”
If voters understand the issues, Rensch believes they will vote for the funds needed.
“I think if it was presented right -- here’s our financials, we don’t need it now, but in the future we might,” voters will agree to a higher mill, even though the timing is not good with the downturn in the oil patch.
While Rensch’s service came online at a critical time to help a service like Divide County’s remain in operation, a change in culture hasn’t helped the service keep volunteers involved.
“It used to be, if you were on the ambulance, your boss said, ‘by all means, your pager goes off, you go take care of it,” said Rensch. “Now, everything’s gotten busier, employers aren’t willing to let employees go, especially for a five-hour transfer.”
It is these transfers, however, that are the bread and butter paying the bills for the service.
“It’s one thing if you’re going to run a quick 911 call, as opposed to being gone for the rest of the day,” he said.
Right now, if the paid staff is gone on a transfer, the only option to get Divide’s second and third ambulance on the road is to find a nurse willing to travel.
And unlike Stanley, on U.S. 2, Crosby’s more remote location means mutual aid services are 30 minutes or more away -- valuable time in an emergency.
The last time Divide offered an EMT class, four people started and only one finished.
“Life has gotten busy, nobody has the free time,” said Rensch. “People get involved in it, think yeah, I want to do that and they find out the time commitment that’s behind it and they drop out.”
Even if someone can’t make the commitment for EMT training, driver’s certified in CPR can make a huge contribution, helping the service respond to critical needs when paid staff are not available.
A volunteer training session is anticipated yet this year and Rensch can only hope that when that training is set, people respond by getting involved.
Divide County schools, and the people entering school buildings, will have an added measure of safety because of recent donations of new defibrillators from the ambulance service.
Previously, the elementary and high school buildings had one defibrillator each, along with a third traveling with teams.
Two new units are the same as the old so staff won’t have to learn new machinery and each school will now have a backup.
“We’re also donating AED boxes for the machines. When the box is opened an alarm sounds,” said Rensch, so it is clear an emergency is in progress.