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By Cynthia Haggitt
Calhoun Ambulance Service (CAS) has announced there are many new changes happening around the area which raises a lot of concern for their services. CAS is now asking for the public’s help to keep the service running which has been a lifeline for so many in this community. On Sunday, Nov. 7, the association held a public meeting to discuss its concerns with Calhoun’s citizens about the future of their emergency services.
“As a volunteer ambulance service, the numbers we are looking at are very concerning. Right now we make around 300 runs per year and we have handful of EMTs to take the runs,” Wanda Blackwell Coordinator for CAS said. “This is a 24/7 hour a day job for EMTs, drivers and we need help to continue our ambulance services.”
Blackwell said they have three ambulances that CAS is responsible for and inside those big box vehicles there is equipment, supplies and physical maintenance to the vehicles. Some examples of the supplies are a Lucas device for CPR, monitors that are used for vitals and defibrillation. Medication that is kept on hand such as glucagon, glucose, nitro, Epi pens, nebulizer treatments and Zofran. All of this equipment and maintenance does cost the service and sometimes economics has an effect on rural emergency services.
Also critical to an ambulance’s survival is its ability to transport patients to hospitals, which allows it to bill for a transport.
“We survive on insurance payments, donations and memorials. It is getting more difficult as the years go by. We are not tax supported. We appreciate all the help we receive from the community.” Blackwell said.
In the past CAS has received support from the community during local fundraisers that the ambulance association has held.
The ambulance staffs large gatherings such as dinners and picnics, school activities, festivals such as Calhoun County Fair, Old Settlers Days and Halloween Trunk or Treats.
Although the extra support that comes from the Calhoun community is appreciated by CAS, economics hits the organization the hardest when they have to outsource another EMS service.
“When calls come in for example, from a 911 emergency and we can’t service the call because we don’t have enough people available, dispatch has to make a call to places such as JCH or Boyd. When we use Boyd’s service they charge CAS $300 for their assistance.” Blackwell said.
Blackwell said they do of course do their best to use local resources such as using the local Sheriff’s department who will help with directing the ambulance to the accident or to a patient’s home and usually the department is more familiar with the area and can lead them to the patient. They use the fire department to help them with accident scenes, lift assists and landing helicopters. The fire department in the Calhoun area is also a volunteer service.
The CAS members also said there have been certain situations where people have suffered harm because ambulances have taken too long to get there. The ambulance crews that service much of rural areas don’t have enough volunteers. It is a crisis by the demands of the pandemic and lack of interest from the younger generation.
“Money, however, is not our main issue. It is the lack of people to staff our services, CAS member and professional EMT Roger Witsken said.
Jana Sievers asked the board members how many people are needed and the response was very clear.
“Ideally the organization needs more people on its staff. We need at least 30 volunteers for our roster. Currently right now we have 25 people showing on our list, but only 12 are active and those numbers have gone down due to COVID quarantine,” Board member and certified EMT Tony Franke said. “We really need help during the day to answer calls and take runs, as it takes at least two to staff the ambulance and three preferably if possible.”
“People are not wanting to volunteer, sign up for classes to become certified due to the fear of COVID or they may not have time because they work another job,” Witsken said. “The lack of certified EMTs is a problem in many local communities. This is partially a staffing issue and a diminishing pool of volunteer EMS candidates, making it harder and harder for companies to recruit and retain professionals.”
It was noted in the meeting that the board has tried classes for certification and has done everything in their power to recruit people.
The certified EMTs who volunteer make time to help teach the classes, but the interest was not there.
However some solutions were thrown around the room by making class certification available online or even more affordable. It was said people would be more apt to take the class if they didn’t have to leave their homes. Another suggestion was made for the certification class if volunteers would be reimbursed if a person completes the program. The suggestion was for the cost of books and supplies.
Blackwell and Calhoun Community High School have come together to find ways to get interest for the younger generation interested in the medical field. They will be offering a class for credit to become certified as an emergency medical technician basic through the school.
“It is our hope that from this class, interest will generate from local seniors who will take this class and pass. It would be a wonderful opportunity because it could lead them to a future career.” Blackwell said. “Also it is hoped that those select few seniors will want to become volunteers in their hometown for CAS.”
The board said if CAS, in Calhoun County does not see an increase in volunteers or a change coming, soon there will be a lack of EMTs available to service. Flight services cannot be available or called unless there is an ambulance and emergency personnel on scene to transport the patient to the helicopter landing zone.
“So we do not want this to happen, especially in an area like ours. The helicopter service is vital for our area. If we go out of service, there will need to be a tax to support a paid ambulance service.
You may want to contact your commissioners, Terry Woelfel, Phil Robeen, Doug Wilschetz, Kim Klaas and Sarah Behrens to discuss this subject,” Blackwell said. “It takes a special type of person to volunteer for the ambulance, but without these people we will not have a service.”
The CAS will offer a class next year running from Jan. 3 to June 9. It will be held on Mondays and Thursdays from 6 to 10 p.m. For more information, you can contact Lisa Fuhler (Instructor) at 1-618-883-2481, Roger Witsken (Instructor) 1-618-535-9880 or Wanda Blackwell at 1-618-576-2343.