Advisory Council leading charge to sustain EMS in county
SHELBY COUNTY — The Shelby County Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Advisory Council has brought multiple stakeholders together for one common goal: giving the people of Shelby County the best care possible for their tax value.
The Board of Supervisors are holding the last of three public hearings to declare EMS an essential service in Shelby County. If the resolution goes through, the measure would be on the November 7, 2023 election ballot.
“This is very important to the rural communities in Shelby County,” said EMS Advisory Council Chairperson, Tim Plumb.
“We have to keep reaching out further and further to other communities to get ambulances in a time where minutes count. Right now, there is no guarantee an ambulance will show up.”
In January, the Board of Supervisors voted to establish an EMS Advisory Council, consisting of Chairperson, Tim Plumb, Shelby County ESA; Bryce Schaben, Vice Chair, Board of Supervisors; Alex Londo, Secretary, EMA; Roger Bissen, Fire Chief, City of Harlan; Karen Schlueter, City of Shelby; Janice Gaul, City of Earling; and Barry Jacobsen, Myrtue Medical Center.
Currently, when someone in Harlan calls 911, the private ambulance company Medivac, responds. If the call is outside of the Harlan response area, the nearest EMS volunteer squad is dispatched, along with Medivac, if needed.
Since the early 70’s, all Shelby County citizens have been served by a combination of volunteers and paid EMS providers. Local volunteers staff ambulances and provide basic first-response emergency care.
The Shelby County Ambulance Commission contracts with Medivac Corp. for 24 hours a day/seven
days a week coverage at the Paramedic level. This combination has served the county’s citizens well for over 40 years. Medivac additionally provides inter-facility transports to major medical centers in the Omaha metro area with highly specialized critical care equipment and personnel.
However, the owners of Medivac are planning to retire. A state law passed last year allows counties to designate EMS an essential service, thereby providing funds to support it.
For the fiscal year 2023-2024, the Shelby County Ambulance Commission (Hospital, City of Harlan, and County) has a designated amount of $373,850 through their general basic fund and special ambulance fund, that supports ambulance service in Shelby County. The EMS Advisory board said this allocation does not provide sufficient funds to continue the current framework, or support the newly formed department.
In addition, there is a shortage of EMS professionals. Plumb stated when he began his service with Irwin Fire and Rescue in 1996, there were 16-18 EMT’s and First Responders. There are currently six on Irwin’s roster.
“Currently, volunteer departments aren’t tax funded,” Plumb said. “The numbers of volunteers continue to decrease, and funds continue to decrease.”
He said if the vote to declare EMS essential in Shelby County passes, funding would also be given to volunteer departments to buy needed equipment or other supplies. He said hopefully this will give the county’s volunteer departments group buying power to get supplies cheaper, be able to move supplies around to avoid expiration dates and to better utilize supplies on hand.
If the EMS Public Measure passes, all Shelby County residents will pay for a share of the cost of EMS through a tax levy. The proposed amount is $.75 cents per $1,000 of taxable property within the county (not valuation). In addition, there will be an income surtax assessment on Iowa individuals’ income tax returns for Shelby County residents at a rate of 1%.
The Advisory Council stated property tax funding will be collected starting in September 2024. The 2024-2025 fiscal year will be dedicated to acquiring a facility, purchasing needed equipment and supplies, and developing the program.
As funds are available, a Service Director will be hired to develop policies and programs, hire staff and apply for necessary licenses. A new county-run ambulance service could start operations July 1, 2025.
The new Shelby County EMS would be fully staffed, with six paramedics, six EMT’s and a coordinator. Along with the volunteer departments, constant coverage would be ensured throughout the county. It would be located in Harlan, which is centrally located in the county and has the highest concentration of the county’s population.
Plumb encourages anyone interested in volunteering on a local department to reach out and ask about joining.
The final public hearing to declare EMS an essential service in Shelby County will be Tuesday, June 13 at 10 a.m.
For more information, please visit https://shelbycounty.iowa.gov. Click on Departments and then choose EMS Advisory Council to view minutes of the Advisory Board and frequently asked questions.