Wright County residents will be asked for ambulance service levy

‘The citizens of Wright County will all vote’

Jim Lester

CLARION — Officials in Wright County have taken the first step to change how emergency medical services are funded.

The Wright County Board of Supervisors recently passed a resolution declaring EMS an essential service.

Citizens of Wright County will ultimately vote on whether to fund EMS in the county, according to Supervisor Karl Helgevold.

“This was just the first step,” Helgevold said. “The citizens of Wright County will all vote. They can say yes we do need ambulance as an essential service and it will have its own tax levy for ambulance services.”

According to Helgevold, voters will have the opportunity to approve funding for EMS that will come in the way of an income surtax and a property tax levy.

A timeline on when voting will take place is not yet known.

According to Iowa Code, EMS is not considered an essential service. Police and fire protection are considered essential.

EMS is funded by the general fund of each city, according to Helgevold.

“The ambulance service is losing money the way it is and it’s really best to run it if it had its own taxing authority, its own management,” he said. “It would streamline and provide more coverage and care for everyone in the county. Eagle Grove would still have an ambulance service. Clarion would still have an ambulance service. All of that would stay the same.”

Ambulance services in Wright County log about 1,100 calls per year, according to Jim Lester, Wright County emergency management coordinator.

More than 800 of those calls are placed through 911.

According to Lester, EMS volunteers are limited.

In late 2015, the ambulance services reported a total of 88 EMS providers including drivers, EMTs, Advanced EMTs, paramedics and nurse-exception providers serving Wright County.

“Keep in mind, those are the numbers that are listed on the service rosters,” Lester said. “Where in reality, a service may have a 25-person roster, but only half or less are consistently available to cover the 24/7/365 shifts it takes to operate the service. The minimum staffing for each ambulance would be two persons.”

The hope is that towns can pool together some of their resources, while maintaining their own independent service, according to Helgevold.

“If we had one organization that did all of the training, all of the scheduling, but all the cities will still be involved,” Helgevold said. “Yet you would have a larger group or larger pool of resources to come to. Instead of each town running EMS classes for new people, you could have one class and people from all areas and do it at one central location.”

In early 2016 city and county officials, including EMS agency leaders, hospital administrators and others formed an EMS Advisory Council at the request of the supervisors. The group began the process of discussing how to improve the county EMS system.

As part of the Advisory Council’s work, response areas in Wright County were reviewed and informal agreements were made with ambulance services in two neighboring counties to provide coverage for the far southeast and northwest corners of the county.

“We have informal agreements with Williams to provide some coverage in the far southeast corner of the county and Renwick for the northwest corner,” Lester said. “Otherwise the county is covered by the services based out of Belmond, Clarion and Eagle Grove.”

In July 2016 the city of Dows discontinued providing ambulance service, resulting in an increase of response area to the remaining services in the county, Lester reported.

With businesses like Prestage Foods of Iowa entering the region, projected population increases may also put a strain on EMS, according to Lester.

“With the county’s potential for growth in the near future, it was very important for the board to address this issue now and I’m looking forward to the recommendations and information from the newly appointed Wright County EMS System Advisory Council,” Lester said.