Dickinson Ambulance Service receives $183K in grant funds
Emergency medical services are essential, whether it is in a city or a rural area.
That’s why the North Dakota Legislature changed the rules to include EMS crews in the Energy Infrastructure and Impact Grants through the North Dakota Land Board, even if the crews are not a part of county or city government, Republican Sen. Rich Wardner said.
“I was involved for a couple of years in making sure that, through the impact funds, the ambulance were included,” Wardner said. “To start out with, ambulances were not a part of the impact dollars that were set aside.”
EMS teams across the Oil Patch have been dealing with an increased number of calls and increased severity of injuries, often leading to longer ambulance trips transporting patients beyond the nearest hospital to Bismarck or Minot, said Lynn Hartman, administrative director for the Dickinson Ambulance Service.
The service recently received nearly $183,000 in Energy Impact Grant money to improve equipment and help pay for staffing.
“That takes a toll on people — especially those who volunteer for their ambulance service,” Hartman said. “They generally have another job and when the call volume was low and they left their job maybe once a week for an hour or two, employers were much more likely to let that happen and even encouraged their people to be a part of the ambulance service.
“Now, if they’re leaving two or three times a week and they’re having to be gone for two or three or four hours at a time, it’s much more difficult for employers to let those people go.”
Dickinson Ambulance Service doesn’t use volunteers because it is a for-profit corporation. But it has been experiencing the same increases other EMS crews across western North Dakota face, Hartman said.
“The need for the funding is there whether you’re for-profit, not-for-profit, fully paid or volunteer,” Hartman said. “Our run volume has increased, our percentage of collection has decreased, we have a much higher rate of no-pays than we used to.”
Ambulance services are billed to the patient by the service and not by the hospital that treats them, Hartman said. Each service will bill the patient regardless of how the crew is organized, which Hartmann said is why Dickinson Ambulance Service applied for the Energy Impact Grant.
The latest round of grants netted more than $12 million to nearly 90 fire and emergency medical services.
The major project for Dickinson Ambulance Service will be replacing the chassis on one of the ambulances, Hartman said. They would also like to get a transport ventilator.
Some have questioned the ethics of giving a for-profit company state money, Wardner said.
“Somebody asked me that,” Wardner said. “But I haven’t had a chance to really take a look at it to see how that works.”
The state requires all ambulance services, whether for-profit, not-for-profit or municipal to respond to and treat patients at all calls, whether or not the patient can pay their bills, said Ken Zander, Stark County Commission chairman. This is why the commission approved the Dickinson Ambulance Service’s grant application.
“We as county commissioners need to make sure that we’re providing good emergency response to all of the citizens of Stark County — not just Dickinson, but to all of them,” Zander said. “They are providing services to all citizens regardless of their ability to pay.”
In order to receive the grant, a political subdivision needs to apply for funds on behalf of the EMS crew, said Lance Gaebe, commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands.
“The Legislature said that at least $7 million of these funds will go towards EMS needs and this is the way we figured out how to do it,” Gaebe said. The county receives the funds and then turns it over to the ambulance service.
Having funding for staffing come from the state coffers doesn’t sit well with Wardner.
“That’s something you have to sustain, that takes a little more doing,” Wardner said. “That means it’s in the budget, you’ve got to come back year after year and make sure that you can fund that.”
Nine of the grants, about 10 percent, were to address staffing needs, including one Stark County applied for on its own behalf.
“Even at the state level, there’s a lot of revenue coming in,” Wardner said. “You need to be careful about taking on new responsibilities.”
Being able to receive the grant money allows the Dickinson Ambulance Service to maintain or even improve its response times for the residents it serves, Hartman said. Without it, service could suffer.
“We have two ambulances staffed all the time — that’s a state requirement — but we’re seeing more and more of a need for a third and sometimes a fourth ambulance that needs to be on the street,” Hartman said. “So response times might increase.”
The state’s approval of the application verifies no foul play, Wardner said.
“If they didn’t qualify, they wouldn’t have gotten any money,” Wardner said.