New EMS Center Nears Fundraising Goal
Friday, December 11, 2020
The need for a new EMS facility in Redfield is the top priority for Michael Sanger, Ambulance Director for Spink County Ambulance. Sanger is leading the effort to raise funds to retain what most believe to be an essential service to the community. Since the EMS service was established in Redfield in the early 1970s, its size, value and need have increased without any proactive approach to building an integrated facility, like you’d have with a police station or a fire hall. Sanger believes the current state of EMS in Redfield makes it increasingly difficult to retain and recruit volunteers, which puts long-term, home-town service to the community in jeopardy. “We have one ambulance in a garage, and we have two ambulances in another garage. The EMTs respond from home, but the EMTs that live out of town need a room to stay in. Our training room is in the hospital, and we have storage for our supplies in four different spots, just kind of where we can find space,” says Sanger.
Nationally, EMS was developed in the late 60s and early 70s as part of a nationwide effort to curb rural traffic deaths and improve out of hospital cardiac response. Just like police and fire services, rural communities rely upon EMS. So, why is their existence often in jeopardy? The federally funded initiative soon lost out to budget cuts, reduced to a small department within the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As a result, states and rural communities were left to develop their own systems.
What evolved in South Dakota, including Redfield, was a “patchwork” of services as part of an informal network of providers. “These organizations and agencies may be independent non-profits, municipally owned, county owned, fire department owned, hospital owned, or for-profit businesses,” wrote Dr. Toni Gross about the role of EMS in improving community health. “In the past decade, this informal network of services has begun to show signs of strain. Volunteerism has declined, and the demand for services has risen. Pressure on the system now threatens the reliability and sustainability of EMS in rural South Dakota.”
According to a study conducted in association with the South Dakota South Dakota Department of Health, Office of Rural Health and EMS Program., released in late 2019, the state’s EMS system faces significant challenges. The authors wrote, “On the surface, these challenges relate to declining volunteerism and difficulties recruiting and retaining workers. A shrinking EMS workforce threatens local systems’ reliability and long-term sustainability. Beneath the surface, however, is a larger challenge related to how rural EMS evolved and has been valued, recognized, structured, and funded.” Redfield is no exception to this problem.
Emergency medical services are a valuable lifeline in areas where geographic distances can be barriers to urgent care facilities at a moment when response time is crucial. We cover all Spink County, says Sanger, including a roughly 100-square mile area in the northeast, near Conde, as well as a pretty good chunk of Hand County and a little chunk of Faulk County. “We actually even reach down into the Hitchcock area, which is a Beadle County. We’re over 2,000 square miles. So, we have a really huge area, it could be, sometimes almost 50 miles to the edge of our area.”
The goal of the new EMS center is to get all three ambulances together, provide a place for out-of-town volunteer EMTs to stay, and provide a meeting room for required training every month. The plan includes a small kitchenette near the meeting room so they can conduct blood drives, CPR classes, Stop the Bleed classes and the training for the community. “It’s gonna be kind of an EMS center, but it's basically kind of a community thing too,” says Sanger. They have a blueprint, a plan for a new building and are two-thirds of the way to their financial goal. Sanger hopes that, with the help of the Redfield Development Corporation and Grow Spink, in 2021 they can finally reach their goal.