EMS reflects on 2 years serving rural Iowa communities

After another paramedics group ceased operations, Woodbury County EMS stepped in to provide 24/7 coverage


Bret Hayworth
Sioux City Journal, Iowa

CLIMBING HILL, Iowa — Two years ago, the Siouxland Paramedics group headquartered in Sioux City ceased operations, leaving rural Woodbury County residents in the lurch for coverage by paramedics around the clock.

It took extended financial and hiring machinations, but by the middle of 2018 the Woodbury County Emergency Services Department reached the goal of every day, 24/7 paramedics coverage, and the department leader now says people have been well served since.

"To provide quality emergency medicine is important to us," Woodbury County Emergency Services Department Director Gary Brown said.

As Siouxland Paramedics neared the end of its 911 service on Jan. 1, 2018, the Woodbury County Emergency Services Department had just one full-time paramedic to serve small towns and rural areas in responding to calls for heart attacks, strokes, vehicle collisions and falls. Brown at the time predicted failing to add more paramedics would set "the county back 35 years."

In an interview in the last week of December, Brown said, "It is working well. I've got some experienced people who know their stuff and are taking great care of people."

Jerry Kelley was first hired as the county formed a new team of experienced paramedics to serve rural residents, outside the metro of 100,000 people in Sioux City. A few months later, two other full-time workers and a part-time employee were added, and the current full-timers are Myles McCrea, of Correctionville, Iowa, has been a field paramedic since 2014, and Ronald Freemont, of Whiting, Iowa, who has been a paramedic since 2010.

Kelley said he's enjoyed serving the rural residents. Brown praised how well other officials, including sheriff's deputies, Iowa State Patrol and many county fire and ambulance volunteer departments, work together.

"We are not trying to replace volunteer systems, we are just trying to help them," he said. "It is amazing to see us work as a team."

Brown said the paramedics respond to about 1,300 incidents per year, or roughly four calls per day. It is rare but sometimes no calls come in over a 24-hour period, while sometimes it can be up to 15 a day.

"Yesterday, they ran their wheels off, one call after another," Brown said.

In 350 calls over the last year, the situations dictated that the county paramedics provide advanced medical care.

Brown noted the county is so far flung that many times an emergency run to a Sioux City hospital could mean a 40-minute trip. He said response times are critical so that the immediate problem doesn't result in a more extensive health problem.

Citing financial difficulties, Siouxland Paramedics in August 2017 announced that they would cease providing 911 services to Sioux City, North Sioux City and the county by year's end. The group had been providing those services for 35 years. (Sioux City Fire Rescue now runs a new city emergency medical services division to 911 ambulance calls in the city.)

With the changes, Brown and other people in the county knew they needed more paramedic coverage.

After four spending proposals, the county supervisors in late January 2018 agreed to hire paramedics at a cost of $146,267. The proposal to fund a second year for 2019-20 was approved without controversy, and Brown said he anticipates no problems with the next budget to keep funding the paramedics.

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©2020 Sioux City Journal, Iowa

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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