EMS teams struggling with staffing across South Dakota

Published: May. 29, 2023 at 8:47 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - South Dakota continues to face a problem that states across the country are also seeing. Earlier this month, the South Dakota Department of Health Secretary warned that ambulance services across the state are struggling with staffing.

Alan Perry is the director of EMS for Lennox Area Ambulance.

“Since COVID hit, we’ve lost 14 people off of our crew, we’ve only been able to replace five of them,” Perry said.

Perry says there are multiple causes as to why staffing is becoming more difficult.

“We had several that actually had to take a second job to help support the family and we don’t pay enough for us to be the second job. We had some that, because of compromised immune systems, couldn’t do the pandemic,” Perry said.

Harold Timmerman, the Lincoln County Emergency Management Coordinator, works with all the county’s EMS crews and helped in creating the Lennox Area Ambulance Service in 1975. He believes increases in training hours may be discouraging people.

“Training is important but we need to find a happy medium somewhere, so people can get this training and maintain certifications without taking near as much time away from their families,” Timmerman said.

“To become an EMT, it’s 160 hours; to become a paramedic it’s far more than that,” Perry said.

If a critical point of short staffing is reached, an ambulance service could be shut down, which would impact more than just the town where it’s located.

“We serve Worthing, we serve part of Chancellor and we serve 189 square miles of rural farmland as well. If we were not to have an ambulance here in Lennox it would affect the citizens of the whole area,” Perry said.

A loss of an ambulance service would likely prompt an increased response time, which could be the difference between life and death.

“If you’re waiting for an ambulance to come from 20, 30, 40 miles away, that’s a long time. If you have a life-threatening injury it could mean that person may not survive,” Timmerman said.

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer that would fix the staffing problem, but both Perry and Timmerman believe something needs to be done quickly.

“Money is not the end all be all, but I do believe if we could pay a living wage, that would help attract some more people,” Perry said.

“It’s going to take a coordinated effort between state, federal, and local personnel to make this all happen,” Timmerman said.