Minneota to form volunteer force

Photo by Jenny Kirk Members of the Minneota city council discuss options regarding ambulance service during a regular meeting on Monday.

MINNEOTA — The Minneota city council recently approved the committee’s recommendation to discontinue the city’s primary service area (PSA) license through the state, setting up the next step of establishing a volunteer first responder squad and hiring someone to serve as its director.

“Minneota has a license to operate an ambulance in the city and the surrounding areas,” North Memorial Ambulance Director Dan DeSmet said. “Their PSA covers the city of Minneota, along with multiple townships and small cities such as Taunton and Ghent. They’re giving that license back to the state.”

Minneota currently contracts with North Memorial, to have them manage the service. But North Memorial recently informed the city of Minneota that it will no longer be able to provide that service shortly after the first of the year.

“This isn’t about North trying to make more money,” DeSmet said. “It has to do with staffing and the ability to maintain staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and it’s about maintaining those requirements set forth by the Minnesota Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board (EMSRB).”

DeSmet said part of that basic life support license says you have to maintain emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or first responder EMTS at all times.

“That’s why we have said we cannot continue to manage that,” he said. “We do not have the staff to do that.”

DeSmet calls the inability to recruit and maintain staff a growing trend nationwide, especially in rural areas, in part because there tend to be fewer residents and businesses in a lot of the small towns nowadays.

“It’s a growing situation and it continues to be, not just for us, but across the state and across the country,” DeSmet said. “It’s been exceptionally hard because we’ve lost a lot of community businesses, so it’s more difficult to keep people in towns like Minneota. But it’s also just EMS (emergency medical services) in general. Hennepin County, I believe, is down many paramedics. That’s a Twin Cities-based service that’s having problems filling positions that are full-time with benefits.”

Larger communities — especially ones with plenty of job opportunities — make it easier to consistently maintain staff, DeSmet said, noting that Marshall employs between 8-10 full-time staff along with about eight other “casuals” as well.

“It makes a big difference if people don’t have to leave town to work,” he said.

DeSmet said Minneota’s current employees are “off-premises, on-call.”

“They’re paid their two-hour minimum to come in for a call, for however long it takes,” he said. They receive $4 an hour for their shift all the time.”

During the meeting on Monday, Minneota Mayor John Rolbiecki shared that the committee felt the other options for service that were explored were proven too costly for the city and townships.

“Basically, they each had a representative there to voice their opinions,” Rolbiecki said. “So the recommendation that came to us was pretty much unanimous.”

Board member Timothy Koppien made the motion to forfeit the license back to the state.

“I’ll make a motion, not without apprehension, but because there’s no way around it,” Koppien said.

After board member Travis Gillund seconded the motion, it carried without opposition, as did a motion to establish a volunteer first responder crew.

Minneota City Administrator Shirley Teigland then encouraged the board to consider hiring a director as soon as possible.

“There’s a lot of things a director could start working on,” she said. “I think if you have a director in place, they could get going on the applications and things that need to be done. The director would be someone who would help with the scheduling and making sure training is done as well as ongoing training. It’s not a full-time job.”

Teigland suggested that Minneota Police Chief Bill Bolt could step into that role. Board member Amber Rodas expressed concerned about “overwhelming” Bolt with more job duties. Katie Boettger was in attendance at the meeting and also shared her concern as well.

“I feel like that would be overloading Bill,” Boettger said. “He’s the chief of police and his primary duty is to be the chief of police. I think it would be best to at least open it up to anybody.”

Boettger asked the board if they had contacted any of the current Minneota employees who are working for North Memorial to see if they’d have an interest in being the director.

“There are different ones who have been on it for awhile and they know the ins and outs already,” she said. “I’m just making a suggestion. That’s my concerned part of it. I could be something to open up and not make a split-second decision. Yeah, it’s got to get moving, but I also think we need to realize the logistics about it before we just make a decision and throw somebody in there when we don’t know what the position all entails.”

Gillund asked DeSmet if there would be an issue with having North staff serve in the director role. DeSmet said it’s never been an issue and that there is cross-over in several area communities.

“We have many people that work for other squads, such as Cottonwood, and they also work for us full-time,” DeSmet said.

A motion to open up the director position carried unanimously. When asked, Teigland said the director is likely to be paid between $1,500 and $2,000.

“It’s equal to what we pay our volunteer fire chief to do similar work,” she said. “The city is going to pay for the (first responder) training. The EMR (Emergency Medical Responder) training is $450 per person.”

DeSmet said training nowadays often includes hands-on, online and video-based learning. Those who already have the qualifications would not have to go through it all again, he said.

According to Teigland, 19 individuals have expressed interest in joining the first responder squad so far. Board member Jerry Teigland said it would be valuable to “see who really is going to do the training.”

DeSmet said first responder training requires 40-60 hours versus about 160-180 hours for EMTs and roughly two years for a paramedic.

Teigland said one of the requirements for the volunteer crew is to have a medical director.

“It has to be an actual medical doctor,” she said. “It’s a paid position.”

DeSmet spoke up and shared that North Memorial currently provides medical direction for surrounding services such as Ghent, Taunton and Lynd, noting that they’d certainly be able to help out Minneota as well.

“We want to help you succeed and continue forward,” he said. “We currently do that free for the other first responder services. I can’t speak to any cost, but I think we’d be willing to do that for the city here as well. Medical direction kind of signs off on some of the training protocols and works in conjunction with whoever runs the organization, whether it’s the fire chief, police chief or whoever.”

While it wasn’t discussed at the meeting, there it’s suspected that Minneota is likely to have an ambulance returned to them from North.

“Initially, when we took over the service here, I believe the ambulance here was given to north as part of the contract,” DeSmet said. “When we leave, there’s a list of items that will be returned back to the city. So there will probably be a vehicle available to them if they want to use that as a first responder vehicle.”

DeSmet said a fully-equipped ambulance with a stretcher, radios and all the things that need to go in there runs between $150,000 and $175,000.

“That’s not with all the other medical materials, like the EKGs and things of that nature that have to go into the trucks as well,” he said. “Those were a lot of the costs that North as a service was already picking up for them.”

Despite ending the service, DeSmet said North isn’t just cutting ties.

“We’re not trying to just walk away,” DeSmet said. “I’ve got friends and relatives here, including my parents, so I’m equally concerned about them not having an ambulance. We want them to be successful. It’s not ideal, but they’ll make it work.”

After the meeting, Gillund shared his optimism.

“We’ll still have first responders and we’re assuming the state will assign this area accordingly,” Gillund said. “We won’t be able to transport, but we weren’t doing that anyway. North always did that. So I don’t think people are going to notice a difference.”

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