EMS emergency declared by MN legislators asking for $120 million infusion

A bipartisan group of Minnesota legislators is declaring an EMS emergency. They’re asking for $120 million in funding to keep emergency medical services open, especially in greater Minnesota.

EMS providers say it’s urgent now because the system is strained and on the brink of collapse.

Minnesota’s emergency medical services are showing signs of illness.

In Altura, one of the state’s oldest ambulance services was at risk of shuttering last year because of a volunteer staffing shortage.

EMS teams across the state are showing similar symptoms and some of them have closed, spreading the rest of them thin and leading to longer response times.

"If we get to the point where we're starting to see ambulances taking an hour to respond to a call, a patient who's experiencing a heart attack, they can start to see their chances of survival plummet," said Mike Juntunen, president-elect of the Minnesota Ambulance Association.

EMS administrators and rural legislators agree the pricing model is broken.

A service only gets paid if a patient is loaded into the ambulance and taken to an emergency room.

And yet, statewide, EMS services are profitable.

"There are people making money on this, and there are rural communities starving and asking to tax themselves more on this issue," said Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown. "It's absolutely absurd. And we've got to figure out mid- to long-term solutions on this issue."

One of the proposed long-term solutions would be to designate EMS as an essential service, like water and sewage.

That would require the state to consistently invest in EMS.

"We're talking about essential services," said Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, and a volunteer EMT with Browns Valley Ambulance. "When someone dials 911 way out on the western part of Minnesota, they want service and this is the funding that we're talking about."

Nobody wanted to say it, but legislators admitted the likely source of permanent funding would be some sort of new tax.

"We need to really look at what is a sustainable funding model for this," said Rep. John Huot, DFL-Rosemount, and a retired EMT. "And where do we find that money?"