Rural EMS teams face dwindling donations as COVID-19 cases rise

EMS departments are being forced into making some tough decisions about how to spend
Published: Nov. 4, 2020 at 5:09 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Rural EMS departments are having a tough time keeping up amid the pandemic; donations are down and expenses are up, forcing them to make some difficult decisions.

“We needed help,” said Chan Oliver of Fort Calhoun, in reference to getting help with an elderly family member battling COVID-19. “We got to a point where we figured we needed some help and needed to go to the hospital.”

Not taking any chances, he made the call for an ambulance.

“Were just weren’t comfortable that we could handle it on our own,” said Oliver. “So we called the Fort Calhoun rescue squad for a non-emergency transport to the hospital.” It’s a critical service, taking a big hit.

“Since our EMS is 100 percent funded by donations and any fees we get from insurance when we transport, the donation is a huge part of our revenue,” said Dan Mallory, Chief, Fort Calhoun Fire Department," noting fundraising amid the pandemic is proving tough.

“From March until now we’ve had to shut down all of our fundraisings. And by not having those events it’s really taken a toll over the months,” said Mallory, noting they’re starting to dip into savings meant for life-saving equipment. “We had to take money away from that equipment and we’ve had to move it over to additional protective clothing.”

Take that protective gear away, and it’s likely some volunteer time will also drop.

“What COVID has done, not only for our department,” said Mallory. “Is that members are apprehensive to respond when they know it’s a positive COVID case because they know the exposure is higher”

And with fewer people putting up their hands, it can take longer to get a response team together.

“So our response times, not to say they’re slower, or extreme, or anything, we don’t want a panic,” said Mallory. “But at the same time, there are people that probably can’t respond to that.”

Meanwhile, Chan Oliver said he’s grateful for the help he and his family received.

“They were very good and did an excellent job,” said Oliver, noting they were very responsive.

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