Iowa EMS: Calls for Service

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(ABC 6 News) – The number of calls coming in daily to dispatch centers across North Iowa has steadily increased over the last couple of decades.

“I’ve been in this close to 30 years and there’s nothing that has rivaled what happened last year,” said Dale Rayhone, paramedic supervisor with the City of Forest City and Forest City Ambulance.

A lot changed since COVID-19 took over our lives.

“The ambulances didn’t roll,” Rayhone said.

This past year, paramedics like Dale Rayhone responded to fewer and fewer calls and said that people began putting the phone down during the pandemic because they were fearful.

“People weren’t seeking the care in ER because they were afraid that they would catch COVID in the ER or if the symptoms that they were having they felt didn’t warrant going to a hospital,” Rayhone said.

While 9-1-1 calls were down transports of infected individuals were rising.

“When COVID struck we were just as scared as everyone else was how do we keep our staff safe how do we protect the community while we protect our crews,” Rayhone said.

“The pandemic definitely affected our service because of the volume of calls we had due to patients with COVID or inter-facility transfers with patients on ventilators,” said Deputy Chief of EMS for the Mason City Fire Department Carl Ginapp.

The Mason City Fire Department (MCFD) covers about 800 square miles of north Iowa with mutual aid contracts in several smaller communities. MCFD says they are responding to more calls, but crews remain challenged.

“Depending on call volume we can be stretched a little bit thin at times,” Ginapp said.

Despite the new legislation that was signed by Governor Reynolds in June 2021. EMS is still not considered an essential service until each county in Iowa approves the declaration to make EMS essential.

“That safety net is getting stretched to the point where it can no longer absorb that we need to find a way to sustainably fund our ems services so that they can stay in business and provide the care that people need in an emergency,” Mark Sachen, President of the Iowa EMS Association.

EMS advocates say the system can support itself, but still needs substantial support to stay in business due to the lack of funding and volunteers.

“Because of the aging population of Iowa and Mason City because of the baby boomer population we are just going to see it continue rising in the area and across the state,” Ginapp said.

“We’ve seen the good the bad and the ugly from COVID and I’m just hoping that it’s going away soon,” Rayhone said.