(WFRV) – Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers across the state of Wisconsin are going through a crisis amid low staffing and underfunding.
According to the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health, nearly 41% of EMS in the state are staffed by six or fewer people, with 21% of them being run by two to three staff members.
Rural EMS Outreach Program Manager James Small says, “If we don’t take a different path now, in five to ten years, there’s going to be many communities that don’t have any service.”
41% of ambulance services also reported they had open periods in their schedules where they were unavailable to respond to a single 911 call.
Winchester EMS Captain Kari Joas says, “It’s causing stress on us, and I’m feeling sooner or later, we’re going to have burnout, and people aren’t going to want to respond.”
Last year, at least 10 communities placed a 911 call in which an ambulance never arrived.
A lack of staff in the rural area of Silver Cliff is also impacting their EMS services.
“I hope that we can speed up the process and transition to some other sort of system in Wisconsin other than volunteers because we’re in a rural, retirement-age area, and our people are tired. We’ve been doing it for a long time,” Silver Cliff Rescue EMT Joanna Sisler says.
Funding is also a major issue. About one-third of EMS services in the state are predicted to run out of money this year.
Gold Cross Ambulance Service Operations Director Nick Romenesko broke down just how much it costs to keep emergency services running.
“Only about 52 cents on the dollar is what we actually will collect from insurance companies. Medical equipment is expensive, ambulances are about $250,000 nowadays without the equipment in them. It creates for a difficult atmosphere to continue to sustain services,” Romenesko explains.
Small says there are a few ways to fix the issues, including more government funding and hiring qualified candidates.
“We need to get municipal government a greater amount of funding so that they can prioritize EMS and put money into these systems. I don’t know of a service that’s out there that’s not hiring. This is the time to come to it,” Small says.
The Office of Rural Health also says 78% of ambulance services have made calls out to neighboring communities because those communities did not have enough staff.