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Hauschild seeks $180 million to rural ambulance crisis

David Colburn
Posted 2/28/24

REGIONAL- Calling the lack of funding and personnel for rural Minnesota ambulance services a crisis, Sen. Grant Hauschild joined other legislators and emergency responders last week in a press …

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Hauschild seeks $180 million to rural ambulance crisis


REGIONAL- Calling the lack of funding and personnel for rural Minnesota ambulance services a crisis, Sen. Grant Hauschild joined other legislators and emergency responders last week in a press conference to call for immediate action to address the issue.
Speaking in St. Paul on Thursday, Hauschild drove his point home to the assembled media representatives.
“We’re not just facing a problem or a challenge like we talk about often in policy,” he said. “We are facing a crisis I cannot emphasize enough that this is a crisis we are facing in Minnesota. After calling for the task force, you know, we visited all of these different communities. And what I want to emphasize, in particular for the rural communities, is that this is really a double whammy on our communities and on our citizens.”
Hauschild said that inadequate reimbursement rates for services fall harder on rural services than urban ones, which are often privately owned.
“When you reach the more rural areas, it often falls on our local communities as a last resort to take on those licenses to manage those services,” he said. “Not only are these rural communities not getting the private support that many of the other areas of Minnesota have, but they’re also expected to pay for the service through their property taxes, with an area that already has some of the lowest property tax value in the entire state.”
Hauschild highlighted the Aurora and Hoyt Lakes area, represented by House Rep. Dave Lislegard, who was also at the press conference.
“Representative Lislegard, behind me, represents Aurora and Hoyt Lakes, a twin community on the Iron Range which was named the poorest community per capita in Minnesota. They run the EMS, the poorest community per capita runs the EMS for that community and surrounding region. That is why this is such an acute issue for greater Minnesota. If you expect people to live in rural communities, they need to know that their zip code won’t determine whether or not an ambulance shows up for themselves or a loved one.”
Hauschild has written a Senate bill, with Lislegard sponsoring a companion bill in the House, that would allocate $180 million in one-time funding for grants to support ailing ambulance services.
Rep. John Huot, DFL-Rosemount, is co-chair of a joint House-Senate task force addressing the ambulance issue, said that while a one-time infusion of cash will help, the crisis is in need of a longer-term fix.
“It’s scary out there,” he said. “What they’re asking for, it was really a drop in the bucket. That scares me. How did we get here? Is it the feds? Yes. Is it the state? Yes, it’s a little bit of everybody, and it’s time to buck up and figure out how we’re going to fix this. It’s not going to be fixed by one silver bullet. We’re all going to have to dig in and work together. For years volunteers in our state have subsidized EMS, and that’s not the model that’s going to be sustained. We’ve got to look for a different model that works for all.”
Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr. used his ambulance service as an example of the extreme shortfall in funding.
“In 2023 the city of Virginia had 2,664 EMS runs, and that does not include transfers and that does not include intercepts. 1,253 additional ones were transfers, whether intercepts or regular transfer calls. 1,667 of those were Medicare runs with gross charges of $3.7 million, and we only collected $1.03 million,” Cuffe said. “We’ve been covering the costs for the ALS service with our reserves. It’s not sustainable. In three years, we’re not going to have any money in our accounts to pay for that. We need immediate short-term help, intermediate help and long-term help to make this a sustainable model.”
Republican Rep. Jeff Backer- Browns Valley, volunteered for 29 years as an EMT and discussed the extremes to which local services go to remain operational.
“Our service, the Browns Valley ambulance, every year we have to do a pancake feed and a fundraiser letter to raise over $30,000 just so we can get the rigs out of the garage,” he said. “Last week when I was down at the Capitol, we had five 12-hour shifts that if somebody dialed 911 we had to work with the neighboring ambulance (service).”
Huot talked about the problems with the current model of reimbursement versus an alternative model that would pay ambulance services for responding to a call and providing medical services.
“This is so ridiculous. The only way you can bill a patient is that the patient has to be in your ambulance and the wheels have to roll,” he said. “Our medics are well-trained. They know their skills and they can easily discharge at a scene. ‘We don’t have to take you to the ER today, but you know what? I’ll come back in four hours and see how you’re doing. Anything happens in there, I’ll come back sooner.’ Why don’t we have those kinds of systems? They have them in Alaska, they have them in Europe. We have some really talented people and definitely good medical direction. We should do that here in Minnesota.”
Hauschild stepped back to the microphone to amplify the fact that funding across the entire state is not as concerning as is funding in greater Minnesota.
“The actual revenues to costs are in the green if you look across the entire state,” Hauschild said. “Now where do you suspect based on what you’ve heard the red is? It’s in mostly greater Minnesota. I just want to be clear that, overall, there are some folks making money on EMS services. It’s inequitable, it’s unfair, and it’s a rural issue. That is what I’m trying to elevate.”
Hauschild’s bill has been referred to the Senate Taxes Committee and is awaiting a hearing.
Lislegard’s bill was referred to the House Taxes Committee and a hearing has not yet been scheduled.