Rusk County facing EMT shortage - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Rusk County facing EMT shortage

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Ladysmith (WQOW) - A shortage of emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, is forcing Rusk County to get creative. The county is handling its low numbers by rotating crews. But that can sometimes mean longer response times for care.

"We had an individual located in the Hawkins area who was experiencing a cardiac event. At that point in time the Hawkins ambulance was short staffed and not able to maintain service coverage in that area," said Amanda Nicholson, a Rusk County EMT based in Sheldon.

Rusk County EMTs say there simply aren't enough hands to help everyone. And when seconds separate life and death, the shortage can be deadly.

"When this individual called for help, the nearest ambulance able to provide care was in Ladysmith. That ambulance had to respond from Ladysmith to the Hawkins area. So that individual who was experiencing that cardiac event had to wait for 25 minutes to receive what could have potentially been life saving care," Nicholson said.

Last year, statewide training requirements rose from 144 hours to 176 hours. Rusk County EMTs say those requirements and with the roughly $1,000 it costs to get the training makes it difficult to recruit new staff. 

"There's a program at the Ladysmith High School where students could take an EMT class within their high school career. They've had that for three or four years, and we haven't ever been rewarded by getting one of them to come to work for us," said Rusk County Ambulance Director Tom Hall.

Although it is a county service, no tax dollars fund the operation. That means few or no benefits are offered to EMTs.

"Whatever we charge to our patients, or receive on grants, is what the ambulance service's budget is. From that budget we buy equipment, pay wages, and everything that has to do with running the ambulance service," Hall explained.

"Between myself, the committee, our EMT employees, we want to all get together and present something to the county board on what it's going to take to sustain the level of service we have for our citizens into the future," said Hall.

Raising taxes or privatizing the service is just a few options the county is looking into right now. There are currently about 40 EMT's staffed for the ambulance service.

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