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Minn. legislators pass $30M aid package for rural EMS

$6 million from the package will be used for a sprint medic pilot program in three counties

By James Allen
Fergus Falls Daily Journal

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — More funding will finally be coming to West Central Minnesota and Otter Tail County in a historic win for rural ambulance services.

The Minnesota Legislature , on May 19, passed a $30 million aid package for rural emergency medical services that many say was long needed.

Specifically, the EMS aid package also includes $6 million to launch a sprint medic pilot program in Otter Tail, Grant and St. Louis counties — authorizing trained medical staff to be the first response and determine if an ambulance is necessary.

The pilot program is being referred to as a “sprint” model, a paramedic with appropriate equipment and medicine would roam the service area, ready to respond to emergency calls immediately while the primary ambulance service travels to the scene. The program also authorizes trained medical staff to be the first response and determine if an ambulance is necessary. This will help connect Minnesotans to care more quickly and ensure the correct level of care is provided. The mobile and flexible approach also aims to reduce unnecessary ambulance calls that ultimately may not be reimbursed.

Rep. Jeff Backer, R- Browns Valley, played a key role in negotiations on the bill and was a leading advocate on the issue throughout the legislative session.

“As a volunteer EMT and member of the EMS Task Force, I have had a front-row seat to the problems facing EMS and ambulance services in our communities,” said Backer. “I am so grateful that all of us were able to come together in a bipartisan manner to provide the emergency funding that these lifesaving services need to stay afloat. There is still much work to be done to address the structural problems facing these services, but in the meantime, this will go a long way in helping to fill in the gaps.”

Throughout the interim, a bipartisan EMS Task Force, including Backer and Senator Jordan Rasmusson, investigated how the state can improve the life-saving services provided by EMS personnel. The task force was created following a 2022 EMS report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA). Field hearings were held throughout the state and Rasmusson invited the task force to hear from constituents at a hearing in Grant County.

The OLA report found the EMS Regulatory Board (EMSRB) was ineffective in its regulatory role. Therefore, the EMS aid package also starts to address these issues with a restructuring of the EMSRB. The powers and duties of the EMSRB are moved to a newly established Office of Emergency Medical Services.

“Access to emergency medical services is crucial for Greater Minnesota, but providing these services in our rural areas is much more challenging,” Rasmusson said. “After hearing the concerns of Minnesotans, the EMS Task Force made key recommendations, many of which are reflected in the Senate’s EMS aid package. I am grateful to the Minnesotans who engaged in the listening sessions we held across the state. Their feedback allowed us to better recognize what is driving a lot of the crisis today.”

Otter Tail County Commissioner Kurt Mortenson stated, “We are thankful for the passage of this bill and grateful for the leadership of Senator Rasmusson to address such a critical issue for the residents of Otter Tail County .”

Rasmusson said the funding remains a federal issue with government reimbursement rates failing to cover the total cost of care: “With the approval of this $30 million EMS aid package, we are extending a lifeline for this critical service. This funding proposal is transparent and prioritizes rural communities that need the most help. I appreciate the collaborative nature of this legislation and the opportunity to work on this issue in a bipartisan manner.”

“We are excited that Otter Tail County will receive $3 million to operate one of two pilot projects which will serve Otter Tail and Grant counties,” said Perham Area EMS director Rebecca Huebsch. “The model will provide geographic equity and rapid response by ensuring advanced life support coverage is distributed evenly across all service areas. Advanced life support coverage will be provided by dedicated paramedics that will operate in a roving ‘sprint car’ staffed by a paramedic in predefined response areas. This would not have been possible without Senator Rasmusson’s leadership.”

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