EMS volunteers needed in O'Brien County

O’Brien County Emergency Management Agency coordinator Jared Johnson talks with the board of supervisors on Nov. 5 in Primghar. He went over topics the county’s emergency medical services advisory committee has discussed in recent months.

PRIMGHAR—What does the future look like for emergency medical services in O’Brien County?

County emergency management agency coordinator Jared Johnson met with the board of supervisors on Nov. 5 in Primghar to go over topics the county’s EMS advisory committee has been discussing.

The committee has held three meetings this year. Attendees have included two supervisors, city officials and ambulance team members from across the county, and representatives from MercyOne Primghar and Sanford Sheldon medical centers.

Board chairwoman Sherri Bootsma and supervisor Dan Friedrichsen represented the board of supervisors on the committee.

Johnson reminded the su­­pervisors of the committee’s main goals:

  • Identifying current EMS needs.
  • Identifying future EMS needs.
  • Reviewing ideas for EMS system development.

He went over the areas of concern the committee has come up with so far for EMS in the county.

“The big one is volunteer shortages — trying to fill in the gaps with the volunteers that are there,” Johnson said. “We are fortunate there are quite a few volunteers. They volunteer a lot of time.”

He noted many of those EMS volunteers are retired people who eventually would like to retire from volunteering for ambulance services in the county.

“We’re trying to look at how we can fill in those gaps after they leave,” Johnson said.

Another area of concern is the time commitment for people who volunteer to become emergency medical technicians or emergency medical responders on ambulance services.

“Once we tell individuals about EMS and what it takes to become an EMT or EMR, that can be a struggle for individuals, especially with home-life stuff,” Johnson said.

“Getting through the EMT training requirements — it is extensive,” he said. “It’s a lot of time at home studying. And getting through final National Registry exams is a challenge as well.”

He said many people have gone through EMS training up to a certain point when they get stuck.

“That last step of getting through that final test — they’re unable to get through it,” Johnson said, noting those individuals eventually give up after trying again multiple times.

The committee also has discussed expense increases as an area of concern for ambulance services in the county.

“The cost of ambulances has increased,” Johnson said. “The cost of equipment has increased.”

He noted the state of Iowa is scheduled to approve new additions to the scope of practice for EMTs, which may take effect next spring.

“If a service wants to follow those, it’s going to require them to buy additional supplies and maintain them,” Johnson said.

He mentioned the areas of concern the committee has come up with are nothing new.

“These are things that have been around for years,” Johnson said. “We started to discuss some ideas for sustainment and improvement.”

One idea he noted was an incentive program.

“That could possibly include going out to each town and identifying if there’d be any businesses that would be willing to maybe offer a discount to emergency responders,” Johnson said. “It wouldn’t just have to be EMS.

“We could include fire and law enforcement as well and kind of create almost like a countywide emergency responder card,” he said. “If you’re an active volunteer, you get this card and then you can get discounts at any places that would be willing to offer something like that.”

He mentioned the idea of marketing EMS volunteerism to the public.

“That could require some funding to get that accomplished, whether that’s postcards or doing more social media marketing to try and reach different target populations throughout the county,” Johnson said.

“We could look at newspapers, radio, online through Facebook," he said.


O’Brien County Emergency Management Agency coordinator Jared Johnson talked with the board of supervisors on Nov. 5 in Primghar about possible county funding for emergency medical services.

“We’ve also talked about how to fill in the volunteer gaps,” Johnson said. “What we have seen in other counties is if they can’t fill in the volunteer gaps, then they look at what it would take to create a position — either a full-time position or a part-time staff position.

“What we talked about within the EMS advisory committee is what that would look like if we’re using county funds versus a local match,” he said.

What he was talking about was the county providing funds to its incorporated cities with ambulance services to help pay for a part-time or full-time emergency medical responder or technician.

Hartley, Paullina, Primghar, Sanborn, Sheldon and Sutherland all have ambulance services. Archer and Calumet do not.

“In the past, there’s been some possible discussion about whether we would want to have a countywide, county-based EMS service and have a few staff,” Johnson said. “Or would we want to give funds to a city? And it’d be a city position and then the city would oversee that employee.”

“It should be a city employee,” said supervisor Dan Friedrichsen. “Not all the cities at this time need somebody. Those that do, it may be their employee.

“In repayment for putting money toward that, we get the use of that person to do such things as training when they’re in their downtime,” he said.

Johnson asked the board about the county requesting proposals from its incorporated cities with ambulance services detailing their needs for EMS assistance.

The supervisors also gave Johnson the go-ahead to request proposals, which he would like sent to his work e-mail address, jjohnson@obriencounty.org, by Monday, Dec. 16, so the board can look them over on Tuesday, Dec. 17.