Simplified: Minnehaha County's rural emergency medical services (EMS) are facing staffing shortages, a decrease in volunteers and lower-than-ideal reimbursement rates, but Jeff Luther, quality assurance director for the rural ambulance services in the county, says they're still making it work with what they've got.

Why it matters

  • Rural ambulances – which respond to calls in Minnehaha County outside Sioux Falls – saw more than 500 calls in the last quarter of 2021. It's flat compared to 2020, but Luther said a "normal" year would have about 450 calls in a three-month period.
  • The types of calls are changing, too, Luther said. There have been more calls related to kids – specifically related to RSV, more respiratory calls and a record number of patient transfers, in which ambulances are used to transport patients between clinics, to nursing homes, etc. Luther added that about 1 in 5 calls (excluding transfers) is alcohol- or drug-related.
  • Rural EMS also have what Luther calls a "good" average response rate (from the call being dispatched to someone arriving on scene) between 10 and 17 minutes in the fourth quarter of 2021.
"I remain impressed with just how well we've maintained," Luther told commissioners. "I thought I would have not as good of numbers as I was able to present today."

What happens next?

The county is looking at a new system for determining when ambulances should use red lights and sirens. Luther told commissioners that's something to watch.