Rural Ambulance Service in Northwestern Minnesota Threatened - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Rural Ambulance Service in Northwestern Minnesota Threatened

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Ambulance service in Northwestern Minnesota is in shambles threatening the safety of thousands.

Tri-County EMS is made of parts of three counties: Roseau, Kittson and Marshall. Within those counties are the towns and townships that own Tri-County.

A man concerned about what is happening to the service decided to blow the whistle and called us for help. He is worried that very soon a call will be missed and a life lost because the conflict is causing some EMTs to quit, and it is an area where it is hard to add people as it is due to everyone leaving rural areas.

We investigated, and what we found was the area could be without local ambulance service if things do not change.

Mary Stauffenecker, an EMT in Greenbush, MN, which is a part of Roseau County, says, "The chair at the time actually told us that by contacting him and asking for meetings we were harassing him."

Not knowing where to turn with the current state of Tri-County EMS, she says enough was enough. "If you're not given the tools and the training that you feel like you could do the best for that patient, you're not exactly comfortable doing it all the time."

At a board meeting, Greenbush had board members take a vote to try and remove itself from Tri-County, but it failed by just a couple votes. That was frustrating to the squad and township leaders.

"Every township and city in the Roseau County side say we will, we want out of the contract, and we want out today," says Russ Anderson a supervisor in the Dewey Township in Roseau County.

Attempts to have the state take action failed as well. The state said it is watching the situation, but it is an internal matter until applications are sent in to change service area.

The lack of morale has caused nearly half the 15-20 EMTs and first responders in Greenbush to stop responding to calls. "I don't want us to miss a call, and we have not missed a call here in Greenbush. That has not happened, but I don't feel comfortable promising that won't happen," says Stauffenecker.

She adds, "We need better organization. We need better administration. We need to have a plan in place so that we have training going on. We need to run more classes to puck up new EMTs and new first responders."

These issues are some of the same ones shared by other areas, like Karlstad, Minnesota in Kittson County. Karlstad Volunteer EMT Shirley Anderson says, "We're here to serve the folks in our community. We don't need all this unrest."

Anderson disagrees with how Greenbush is going about trying to solve their problems, saying the motives are selfish. "We may not like how some things are done, but it's a corporation. You have to give and take. We're not three years old," she explains.

But she also adds, "If it would've been taken care of when it was a small problem. It probably wouldn't be to this point."

She is pointing to an ambulance board that she says has no function. Anderson says she has had a tough time ordering needed supplies, has not been paid a small stipend for responding to calls for three months and feels hung out to dry with no leadership.

That is one of the reasons former board member of 17 years Patti Jo Schmiedeberg stepped down a month ago. "I decided that I couldn't work with the way it was going. We were going nowhere," she says.

Schmiedeberg says after the administrator for Tri-County was let go, things got worse.
She says people became scared to speak up explaining, "You could never vote because what you believed in. It was always going to be shut down."

Through all the bickering, former board member and founding Tri-County father Jim Pederson says it is the people who need the service that are suffering. He explains, "It's tough to get new EMTs which are absolutely imperative in order to operate such a service."

Shirley Anderson and Stauffenecker agree.

"Who wants to get mixed up with a mess going on like this? And you can't blame them," says Anderson.

"If we're not bringing in new members, and we're losing our current members...do the math," adds Stauffenecker.

That means Tri-County itself could be in jeopardy, and if that happens anyone can contract the ambulance service, including the hospitals in Roseau and Thief River Falls.

Schmiedeberg says, "The downfall is the travel time. You're talking a half hour, 45 minutes on a call, versus your 10-15 minutes right now."

So what is a potential solution?

Shirley Anderson says, "At this point in time, I think the whole board needs to go and start over."

Starting over could allow the district to get back on its feet and solve current concerns, including the ones Greenbush has. "I think there's been too many feelings that have been hurt through the whole process now with the board, and sometimes it's hard to put those feelings aside and start over," says Schmiedeberg.

Attempts to speak with the current Tri-County board chair about the complaints failed.

Greenbush representatives say they say they have tried contacting state representatives for help as well. They add that the hospital in Roseau has expressed interest in taking over once Greenbush separates from Tri-County.

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