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Published July 19, 2013, 08:49 AM

North Dakota oil patch ambulance services seek staffing help

PARSHALL, N.D. (AP) — Four ambulance services in the western North Dakota oil patch have formed a nonprofit group to seek grant money that can be used to hire part-time staff to fill scheduling gaps.

PARSHALL, N.D. (AP) — Four ambulance services in the western North Dakota oil patch have formed a nonprofit group to seek grant money that can be used to hire part-time staff to fill scheduling gaps.

Ambulance calls in the oil patch have increased nearly 60 percent since 2006, compared with 5 percent in the rest of the state, according to the state Health Department. Ambulance volunteers in the region say they can't even leave town for a weekend because there is no one to cover for them, The Forum newspaper reported.

"The volunteers are so active and putting in so much they really need some relief," said Lynn Hartman, administrative director for Dickinson Area Ambulance.

Only three of the 44 ambulance services in oil-producing counties have fully paid staff. The rest have mainly volunteers, said Tom Nehring, director of the state Health Department's Division of Emergency Medical Services & Trauma.

"We're putting a huge burden on the backs of the volunteers," he said.

The volunteer ambulance services in Dickinson, New England, Mott and Regent have formed the Rural EMS Assistance Inc. nonprofit as a pilot project. The Health Department is supporting the partnership.

"This is one we're watching to see if we can use and replicate this across the state," Nehring said.

The North Dakota Legislature earlier this year approved about $7.3 million to support rural emergency medical services across the state, along with $14.5 million for fire protection districts and $1 million for local public health units.

Another $7 million is available in energy impact grants for emergency services. However, officials who control the funds are reluctant to use that one-time money for staffing, which is the biggest concern for emergency services, Nehring said.

The money also might not be enough. In the 2012 energy impact grant round, $2 million was available for emergency services and communities submitted $44 million in requests, Nehring said.

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